A Florida TV reporter this weekend quickly learned that a journalist’s job is not to dig for facts and a beach is no place for a shovel — at least not in the eyes of government officials.
Dan Thomas, a reporter at the local ABC affiliate in Pensacola, Fla., took a shovel to the Gulf Island National Seashore to investigate just why BP workers can’t dig more than six inches in the sand to look for oil. Park officials promptly stopped him.
“We had come out here to the National Park to show you just what exactly is in the sand, lower than six inches,” Thomas said in a news broadcast that aired Sept. 18. “We wanted to use the shovel and give you a look, but apparently, that’s illegal.”
The broadcast does give viewers a peek beneath six inches — and oil is clearly visible. Maybe that’s why officials didn’t want Thomas to poke around in the sand. Thomas had barely begun to dig when Pat Gonzeles, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer said, “You don’t have a permit to do this,” and ordered Thomas to move down the beach.
Further down the beach, yet another official — this time an A. Negron with the National Park Service — demanded to see Thomas’ papers. Negron not only wanted to see a digging permit, but he also wanted to see a press pass.
Papers just to film at a public beach? No home videos of the family vacation, then — and say goodbye to sand castles if digging is also off-limits. But even more importantly, how’s a journalist supposed to deliver the news if he’s not allowed to uncover it? Oil aside, park policies seem a little extreme.