No eye in the sky: The FAA had no business curbing the press
As Ferguson erupted, police didn’t want the news media — the public — to have a bird’s eye view
November 11, 2014 12:00 AM
By the Editorial Board, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Obama administration has not been a friend of the media — and the latest example comes from Ferguson, Missouri, where in August a white police officer shot to death 18-year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, sparking weeks of sometimes violent street protests.
With the eyes of the world upon the community, what did police do? They went to the Federal Aviation Administration and got a no-fly zone imposed over Ferguson for nearly two weeks under the pretext that reports had indicated shots fired at a police helicopter.
The 37-square-mile restriction limited flights to police helicopters and commercial flights. The White House insists that the FAA’s restriction was prudent in the immediate aftermath of the reported shots and that the restriction was eased within 12 to 14 hours to allow TV news helicopters over the area. But, as The Associated Press reported, none of the St. Louis television stations were advised that the restriction had been updated.
For its part, the St. Louis County Police Department denied making any request that only media be kept out of the airspace. But the audio recordings of negotiations between police and the FAA, obtained by the AP, tell a different story.
An FAA manager is heard talking to a police official about the updated restrictions: “It will still keep news people out. … The only way people will get in there is if they give them permission in there anyway so… it still keeps all of them out.”
“Yeah,” replied a county police captain. “I have no problem with that whatsoever.”
The police say this conversation was taken out of context, but the context seems plain enough: As Ferguson erupted, police didn’t want the news media — and, by extension, the public — to have a bird’s eye view of the news. Despots around the world would applaud this move. When civil unrest is rife, the citizenry can’t be trusted to watch.
While a grand jury is yet to decide the rights and wrongs of the fatal shooting, the press has never been the underlying problem in Ferguson. Shame on the FAA for making news gathering more difficult.