fairn.png
Wednesday July 28th, 2021 1:00AM

Media access to wildfires, disasters varies widely by state

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Journalists have captured searing, intimate images of active and dangerous wildfires burning in California, due in large part to a decades-old state law that guarantees press virtually unfettered access to disaster sites in evacuated areas that are off-limits to the public.

That's not the case everywhere as rules about media access vary by state, and even by government agency.

Wildfires are raging in several states in the western U.S., scorching an unprecedented amount of land, forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes and killing at least 23 people across Oregon, Washington and California. But the images and words the public sees vary greatly because of the level of access granted journalists.

Daniel Berlant, an assistant deputy director with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said beyond the law, California journalists are given free reign because fire officials want the public to understand and see what is at stake.

“During a natural disaster and during a wildfire, people are making decisions about their family and their own safety, and in many cases, people are going to follow our request for evacuations if they’re actually able to see how destructive the disaster is,” he said.

Some other states only allow journalists behind fire lines with escorts, while others rarely grant permission for reporters to get anywhere near an active wildfire, saying that safety is paramount.

New Mexico prohibits journalists from going into areas where wildfires actively are burning, said Wendy Mason, a former television journalist who is now spokeswoman for the New Mexico State Forestry Division. She said journalists could face penalties from local sheriffs offices.

“You certainly would get a good talking to and immediately moved out of the area,” she said.

Scott Stoddard, editor of the Daily Courier in Grants Pass, Oregon, has been arguing for years for that state to match California’s law. Journalists there can’t go past roadblocks without an escort, weakening the coverage that's critical to the community, he said.

It's particularly ridiculous when residents and even campers with reservations are allowed access, but not the people whose job is to inform the public, he said.

“There were no photojournalists to witness those flames," he said of the fire that wiped out much of small Oregon town of Phoenix. “It's either photos provided by an agency or residents, and that seems out of balance when the professional storytellers aren’t there on the scene."

In Washington state, media can’t go behind fire lines without an escort, protective gear and advance training. Even then, photographers and reporters may be denied access if conditions are too dangerous, said Bobbi Cussins, spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources.

State, federal and tribal agencies in Arizona consider fire behavior and weather air operations among other things before deciding whether to escort journalists in protective gear to the fire line, said Tiffany Davila, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

“We try to provide as much access as possible and get the reporter as close to the fire without jeopardizing the safety of the journalist and the fire personnel," she said.

News media access to wildfires is severely limited in Colorado and in neighboring Utah. Reporters cannot enter areas that have been evacuated or declared part of a firefighting zone, often leaving journalists miles from the flames and dependent on media briefings by fire officers and local authorities.

County sheriffs decide whether to allow access — and rarely, if ever, grant it during an active fire — under Colorado statute. Utah journalists face similar restrictions.

Because of a 1986 court ruling that enshrined media access, the same California law that allows officials to cordon off areas to the public following a natural disaster specifically allows the media to access them, said Berlant. But he's also had to remind law enforcement tasked with patrolling evacuated areas to let reporters through.

“My job is to make sure the media is communicating to the public what is happening," he said.

The law does not apply to wildfires on federal land, and law enforcement is still permitted to cordon off any area that may be a crime scene.

Jim Cross, a longtime radio reporter in Arizona, said the difficulty in covering wildfires in Arizona is the vastness of the state. Media staging areas often are far from the wildfires themselves with evacuees sent to the closest community.

“Access has always been hard in Arizona,” he said. “It’s way more difficult than California, but I will tell you there are some fires going in California and Oregon now that I don’t even want to be close to. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a wildfire season like this.”

Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, said variety of rules “really kind of boggles the mind," but speedy access to photos, video and first-hand accounts is critical to keeping the public informed.

“The First Amendment is there to protect the right of the public to receive information, and part of receiving information is getting visual images of what’s going on," he said.

___

Fonseca reported from Flagstaff, Arizona. Associated Press writers Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washington, Jim Anderson in Denver and Sara Cline in Salem, Oregon contributed to this report.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, AP Business
© Copyright 2021 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
'Evacuate now:' Wildfires grow in Oregon as 500K flee
Deadly wildfires in heavily populated northwest Oregon were growing, with hundreds of thousands of people told to flee encroaching flames while residents to the south tearfully assessed their losses
12:33AM ( 5 minutes ago )
Media access to wildfires, disasters varies widely by state
Journalists have captured searing, intimate images of active and dangerous wildfires burning California, due in large part to a state law that guarantees press virtually unfettered access to disaster sites
12:15AM ( 23 minutes ago )
10 now dead in massive Northern California wildfire
A Northern California wildfire has become the state's deadliest of the year, with at least 10 people confirmed dead, and the toll could climb because 16 people are missing
10:21PM ( 2 hours ago )
U.S. News
Radulov scores 31 seconds into OT, Stars beat Vegas 3-2
Alexander Radulov scored 31 seconds into overtime on a wrister from the middle of the right circule and the Dallas Stars beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2
12:16AM ( 22 minutes ago )
China becoming battleground for plant-based meat makers
China has become a battleground for plant-based meat companies looking to tap into the world’s largest market for meat-consumption
12:14AM ( 24 minutes ago )
Chiefs begin title defense with 34-20 victory over Texans
Patrick Mahomes threw for 211 yards and three touchdowns, Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran through the rain for 138 yards and another score, and the Kansas City Chiefs began defense of their first championship in 50 years by beating the Houston Texans 34-20 on Thursday night
12:12AM ( 26 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Trump revels in packed Michigan crowd amid book fallout
Reeling from another crisis of his own making, President Donald Trump tried to refocus attention on his Democratic rival at a rally in battleground Michigan Thursday as he pushed to move past revelations that he purposefully played down the danger of the coronavirus last winter
11:02PM ( 1 hour ago )
Charges, sanctions revive specter of Russian interference
The Trump administration has charged a Russian national in a sweeping plot to sow distrust in the American political process, And the government is imposing sanctions against a Ukrainian lawmaker accused of interfering in the U.S. presidential election in November
9:14PM ( 3 hours ago )
The Latest: Texans lead Chiefs 7-0 in NFL opener
David Johnson ran 19 yards for a touchdown to give the Houston Texans a 7-0 lead over the Kansas City Chiefs after the first quarter in the opening game of the NFL season
9:08PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP National News
The Latest: South Korea stays in downward infection trend
South Korea’s daily count of new coronavirus cases is under 200 for a ninth straight day, continuing a downward trend in fresh infections for the country
11:05PM ( 1 hour ago )
Asian shares mixed after technology fall leads US stock fall
Asian shares are trading mixed following a selloff of technology shares on Wall Street
10:31PM ( 2 hours ago )
Maddow beneficiary of scramble for attention by authors
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow is a beneficiary of the scramble for attention by authors trying to sell books that pick apart Donald Trump's presidency
10:17PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Business
'Evacuate now:' Wildfires grow in Oregon as 500K flee
Deadly wildfires in heavily populated northwest Oregon were growing, with hundreds of thousands of people told to flee encroaching flames while residents to the south tearfully assessed their losses
12:33AM ( 5 minutes ago )
10 now dead in massive Northern California wildfire
A Northern California wildfire has become the state's deadliest of the year, with at least 10 people confirmed dead, and the toll could climb because 16 people are missing
10:21PM ( 2 hours ago )
Las Vegas shooting victims closer to getting $800M payout
More than 4,400 relatives and victims of the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history could receive a total of $800 million in payouts from MGM Resorts International and its insurers by January
9:14PM ( 3 hours ago )
Couple missing in California fire sought shelter in a pond
Grandparents who told their son they were going to try to escape a deadly fire by finding shelter in a pond are among those missing in a Northern California wildfire
8:50PM ( 3 hours ago )
Las Vegas shooting victims closer to getting $800M payouts
More than 4,400 relatives and victims of the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history could receive about $800 million in payouts from MGM Resorts International and its insurers by January
8:34PM ( 4 hours ago )