Friday, July 21, 2006

Surrender Your Constitutional Rights to FEMA

Sorry for the tinfoil-hat title, but this is just unbelievable. On multiple occasions, journalists interviewing Katrina victims in FEMA's trailer parks have been kicked out by security guards. Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Sandy Davis was one of them. She followed up with the government agency:

“If a resident invites the media to the trailer, they have to be escorted by a FEMA representative who sits in on the interview,” [FEMA spokeswoman Rachel] Rodi said. “That’s just a policy.”

Wait a minute. So an American citizen is not allowed to talk to the media without government intervention? That doesn't sound like free speech or freedom of the press. Is surrendering one's constitutional rights the price that must be paid to live in government housing?

Davis easily found a shocked legal expert:
Gregg Leslie, legal defense director for The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said FEMA’s refusal to allow trailer park residents to invite media into their homes unescorted is unconstitutional. “That’s a standard for a prison, not a relief park and a temporary shelter,” Leslie said “They cannot deny media access. It’s clearly unconstitutional … and definitely not legal.”
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) cites a similar example from April involving radio talk show host Amy Goodman:
Tape-recording the accounts of residents of the FEMA-run Renaissance Village camp outside Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Goodman was approached by FEMA-hired security guards from Corporate Security Solutions who told her to “turn it off.” When Goodman explained that the resident had asked to be interviewed, she was told, “He can't. That’s not his privilege.” At first, the resident talking to Goodman was told by the guard, “You can go get interviewed as long as it’s off post.” But when the resident offered to continue the interview outside the camp, the guard said, “Yes, you can be interviewed... if they had a FEMA representative with them, but since they don’t and do not have an appointment....” Interviews are allowed to proceed, the guard noted, when “they have the FEMA public relations officer with them.”
FEMA residents are not even allowed to talk off the premises? Do the guards track down those who do? Are they kicked out of the camps? This is Gestapo kind of stuff, and it's happening right here in America to people who already have enough problems. One could argue that in the aftermath of Katrina, their constitutional rights were all they had left. But FEMA has stripped them of those, too.

07/29/2006 - UPDATE - Thanks in part to FAIR activists, this policy has been changed.

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