9/09/2005

FEMA seeks media censorship

The news reporting out of New Orleans has been better than we have been accustomed to. Some reporters have been getting in boats, going into neighborhoods, and have even helped save lives. Their cameras have shown us the bloated bodies bobbing in the toxic water, the joy on people's faces as they are rescued from their homes, and the sadness as a beloved pet is left behind. Even Geraldo Rivera broke down into tears at the convention center over the treatment of people stranded there without food or water and the lack of a response to assist them. This is the kind of reporting that shows us the stark, glaring truth and allows us to speak truth to power.

During the build-up to the Iraq war, this kind of reporting was AWOL. Reporters accepted the Bush administration's war justifications without dissent. No tough questions. No demands for proof. No pictures of war-torn bodies or flag-draped coffins. No complaints about censorship requirements for imbedded reporters. The government was able to control the war news to its liking by controlling the media. War looks very clean and sanitized -- and hard to oppose -- through the many filters of censorship.

In New Orleans, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is now asking the National Guard not to allow reporters onto boats and to prevent them from photographing dead bodies. FEMA claims it is to protect family members from seeing a loved one on TV, but the photographers have done a good job of documenting the horror with wide-angle and distance shots, not close-ups that would identify the victims on national television. FEMA is using this censorship as an excuse to restrict reporting, which, they hope, will result in less criticism of the Bush response to the disaster. Control the media; control the story.

It is very important to have witnesses in New Orleans, whether they are from the national media, local independent outlets, or individuals with video cameras. People need to document what is happening there at all stages of the disaster, right through the reconstruction process.

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