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By Staff on Jun 4, 2010 with 10 responses

Was BP Actively Restricting Media Access to the Oil Spill?

Tags: BP, oil spill

The following article is provided by UNC’s Powering A Nation journalism team.

BP has made claims that it has not blocked media from covering the oil spill. But a contract that became valid May 2 suggested otherwise.

BP required workers employed in the Vessels of Opportunity program and other programs to sign a contract. The Vessels of Opportunity contract put fishermen at risk of losing their job, which is their only form of income, if they speak with the media.

The contract included a clause prohibiting them and their deckhands from making “news releases, marketing presentation, or any other public statements” while working on the clean-up. It also included an additional section titled “Agreement Regarding Proprietary and Confidential Information,” which states that workers cannot disclose “Data” gathered while on the job, including “plans,” “reports,” “information” and “etc.”

We were able to obtain a copy of the contract from an anonymous source. Below are the clauses pertaining to media relations.

(view first image larger; view second image larger; view the first page of the contract)



On May 24, some received a notice indicating that Article 22 and paragraph five of Exhibit C were deleted from the original contract. Still, many are confused and concerned with their job security if they speak with media members. Below is a copy of the first page of this letter, also obtained from an anonymous source.

(view larger image: page 1, page 2)



Media outlets have also reported being forced off of oiled beaches and restricted from staging areas by the oil company. Some fishermen we have spoken with say they were told explicitly by their supervisors that they were not allowed to tell anyone what they see while out on the job.

One loophole we’ve found in gaining access is with the fishermen’s wives. Many of them see what their husbands, their families, and their community are going through, and they are willing to speak out.

“I don’t care – I didn’t sign a contract,” said Cherie Pete, who owns Maw’s Sandwich & Snack Shop and has lived in Venice all her life. This is a sentiment shared by many wives we’ve spoken to. Her husband, a lifelong shrimper and boat builder, is now working with Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries as a contractor paid by BP.

Some fishermen are worried to let us document their lives at home, outside of their employment with BP, for fear of being fired from the only work they can do right now. Ultimately, BP is not directly limiting media contact, but the contract added more uncertainty on top of what the fishermen are already experiencing.

Written by Lauren Frohne and Jessey Dearing; Edited by Mike Ehrlich and Elena Rue, under the auspicies of UNC’s Powering A Nation and shared with Consumer Energy Report.

  1. By BeckyMinx on June 4, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Very interesting proof…mmmm…but not surprising

  2. By russ on June 5, 2010 at 2:44 am

    The last thing that helps is for a thousand fellows with little knowledge of the situation to be interviewed by equally knowledgable reporters – even more so a reporter trying to write stories that will create even more sensation.

    İ don’t disagree with the restrictions. 

    İt is the news media trying to create a problem that is making the workers even more uncertain and worried.


  3. By Kit P on June 5, 2010 at 9:03 am

    “İt is the news media trying to
    create a problem that is making the workers even more uncertain and


    I agree with Russ. The first issue is
    that most people are not trained to deal with the media. When the
    first commercial nuke plant I was at had their first exercise to test
    the emergency response plan, two engineers trained in emergency plant
    operations were assigned to coordinate at the offsite emergency
    response center. Somebody thought it would be a good idea of if we
    talked to the media because we understood the hypothetical situation
    at the plant. One of the things we learned was that the media
    coordinator should deal with the media.


    Second, the news media likes to report
    problems and is pretty lazy when it comes to fact checking. At the
    same plant we scrammed at 75% power because of ‘noise’ in an
    instrument line during testing while increasing power. Utilities
    make reports to the NRC and generally concurrently provide a media


    A few days later the local TV station
    has an big story about the cover at the nuke plant and how the
    utility was lying. A construction worker (the second unit at the
    site was still under construction) was behind a screen to hide his
    identity talking about some big leak of radioactive water being
    covered up. The story was very damning.


    This nuke plant has some steam turbine
    driven pumps. At the time of the scam, the control system for this
    pump was being tuned up. I was observing the testing when the first
    scram signal came in (one of two, taken twice logic) and the second
    came in before you could say ‘aw s***’. Because of the testing. A
    small relief valve similar to on a hot water heater lifted and
    released water to the waste water drain system. This all described
    in the media release.


    TV station did issue a retraction but
    it was as short as possible. The media being wrong is not a big


    Almost all MSM stories about nuclear
    power contain more disinformation from the unqualified sources than
    from those who are in positions of authority. Of course we all know
    that government and industry are full of lairs and the radon person
    on the street knows the real truth learned from MSM.

  4. By madhatter on June 5, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    @kit p

  5. By Josh on June 5, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    Kit and Russ-
    So you’re all for restricting the media because they might interview someone who doesn’t really know what they’re talking about? Let’s keep in mind that the ‘what’ they’d be talking about is a crisis and an environmental disaster, the biggest ever.
    These restrictions are not in place to prevent the media from sensationalizing something a fisherman may be mistaken about. They are in place to control how much the public knows about the extent of the damage their company is known to be causing.
    The media doesn’t need the misguided words of a fisherman to spin this disaster, BP is doing fine on its own.

  6. By bojan on June 5, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    This story is garbage. Show me one fortune 500 company that allows all their workers to talk to the news. Can’t find one can you?

    If you want to report the news of what is happening, take a camera and go to the beach and start taking pictures. You don’t need a fisherman telling you what is happening out there. Last time I checked the US is a free country and everybody has a right to be on the beach or in a boat on the water to take pictures of the devastation. The press is not doing their job of reporting.

    BP can’t hold you back. If they are able to, then we need to put them on the Mexican border ti keep the illegals out.

    Disclaimer: I’m a first generations immigrant.

  7. By Kit P on June 5, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    Well Josh I certainly am not suggest
    restricting the media. I think it would be refreshing to see good
    investigative journalism again. Some fact checking would be nice
    too. Let me show you how easy that is.


    Josh wrote, “Let’s keep in mind that
    the ‘what’ they’d be talking about is a crisis and an environmental
    disaster, the biggest ever.”


    Let me check,


    List of accidents and disasters by
    death toll…..death_toll


    Looking at the trend, industrial
    accidents are less frequent, lower loss of life, and less severe
    environmental impact particularly where western standards are


    I suspect there is a ton of information
    provided by the Coast Guard and other agencies about the impact of
    oil. I have no problems being better informed on a topic that I am
    interested by using the Internet rather  than relying on journalists.

  8. By martin gugino on June 5, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    bojan, you say [Last time I checked the US is a free country and everybody has a right to be on the beach or in a boat on the water to take pictures of the devastation.] You have not been paying attention. Photographers have been shooed away and threatened by arrest.

  9. By russ on June 6, 2010 at 6:58 am

    Let the reporters tell their story they way they want – that is the problem of the listeners to understand what is real and what is opinion.

    Reporters like to get a worker (fisherman or other) and get him to say something (which they will probably misquote anyway) as it adds ‘authenticity’ and ‘authority’ to the article. Never mind that the worker doesn’t have the slightest idea what is going on. 

    No one said to restrict the media but the company has full rights to restrict it’s workers. İf a reporter wants an article they are not allowed to walk through the front gate of any plant and start talking to people. Normally reporters don’t chase people home trying to get an interview but in this case with the rather silly coverage they want they credit and lines of print.

    İ managed large operations with in excess of one billion dollars annual turn over. İ talked to no reporter unless it was cleared with the head office. Needless to say my subordinates better not either.

    İ have read allegations about restricted access but no facts. İ expect they were BS or we would have heard a lot more about it.


  10. By Kit P on June 6, 2010 at 10:46 am

    “Never mind that the worker doesn’t
    have the slightest idea what is going on.”


    During the California energy crisis,
    Governor Davis had breakfast with two maintenance workers laid off
    from a small oil fueled facility that was scheduled to torn down and
    replaced with a more efficient gas fired plant. These maintenance
    workers claimed power from oil fueled facility was withheld from the
    grid causing blackouts.


    This was a great story and reported
    widely. Of course the back outs were in another part of the state
    and there was not transmission capacity to get power to where it was
    needed. My company did issue a press release explaining this but it
    was not reported at all. If fact the CEO wrote a monthly letter to
    Governor Davis for months preceding the ‘crisis’ warning of impending
    shortages. These letters were also issued in press releases that the
    media did not report.


    Fiction about corrupt ‘big’ energy
    companies sell more papers than responsible journalism that informs
    the public.


    Governor Davis was too busy to meet
    with the CEO of the most respected US electric utility, the new vice
    president was not. Dick Cheney and the Energy Task Force were not
    too busy. How do I know about this? Well my company issued a press
    and I watched the news interview after word on TV.


    For those who like secret document here
    it is:



    For those who like hard hitting
    journalism, “The Washington Post reported on November 15, 2005 that
    it had obtained documents …”


    It is just amazing how many secret
    documents are available on the internet.


    The nuts and bolts of energy is boring
    and does not sell papers. It is the responsibility of energy
    companies to safely provide a reliable and affordable energy while
    minimizing the environmental impact.


    Increasingly journalist are not doing a
    very good job of selling newspapers. I think part of the problem is
    that journalist are not doing a very good job of reporting news with
    out the bias of agenda.

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