WASHINGTON– In a letter to FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta, the Radio Television Digital News Association is calling on the agency to revise its policies regarding restricted airspace for media aircraft.
According to a report by the Associated Press, airspace restrictions requested by local police and approved by federal officials during the August unrest in Ferguson, Mo., were aimed at keeping news helicopters away from the scene of protests over the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. The report cites audio recordings of local officials, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The recordings contradict claims by the St. Louis County Police Department that the restrictions were only for safety reasons.
The AP report says police had earlier claimed police aircraft were being hit by gunfire, but later confirmed there was no damage to police helicopters and could not produce an incident report about gunfire.
“The recent reporting by the Associated Press about the Temporary Flight Restriction imposed over Ferguson, Mo., last August clearly shows that public safety was not a concern in the decision to keep media helicopters from flying over the scene of the disturbances,” said Mike Cavender, executive director of the RTDNA.
“Further, to hold the restriction in place for 11 days constitutes even further evidence that the overarching goal of the TFR was to repress the media coverage of the events as opposed to protecting the safety and security of police, media members and other groups. RTDNA believes your response to the contrary is disingenuous and served to only exacerbate a situation where the media was prevented from doing its job to report on this volatile event.
“As this event played out over many days, the FAA played a role in denying reporters, camera crews and other media their basic First Amendment rights. We are sorely disappointed that, to this day, officials including those at the FAA continue to maintain their actions were necessary and appropriate to preserve safety and security.
“On behalf of the more than 1,000 members of the Radio Television Digital News Association and thousands of other journalists who strive simply to do their jobs unfettered by restrictions imposed solely to deny them access, we request the FAA revise its policies to prevent practices such as those which occurred in Ferguson.
“Current policies unduly and without cause restrict the media from providing important and necessary news coverage of rapidly-developing events.
“We understand there are times when flight restrictions or other administrative actions may be necessary during a given event. However, by all accounts, the disturbances in Ferguson were not—and should not have been—among them.”