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Coast Guard Changes Its Mind About Media Access to Safety Zones

Journalists will no longer have to ask permission to get close to oil cleanup operations in the Gulf of Mexico.The 'safety zone' rule and its hefty penalties were never intended to restrict reporting, the Coast Guard says.

Two weeks after it issued new rules requiring journalists to apply for access to cleanup operations, the Coast Guard has changed its mind about the 65-foot “safety zones.”

It’s now changing the procedures to allow for more media access, after several news organizations protested the rule’s restrictions on reporting. The public, however, continues to face the same restrictions.

“We need to discriminate between media, which have a reason to be there and somebody who’s hanging around when we know that we’ve had equipment vital to this region damaged,” said Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, in a statement Monday.

Previously, journalists had to contact local authorities and receive approval each time they wished to go within 65 feet of protective boom or cleanup operations.

The new procedure allows journalists to wander as they wish within the safety zones, as long as they obtain credentials from Unified Command, a response group composed of BP and other involved parties as well as several federal agencies.

The penalty for violating the safety-zone rule remains unchanged: up to a $40,000 civil penalty or a class D felony for willful violations.

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