FAA Imposed No-Fly Zone in Ferguson to Keep Media Away

Tuesday, November 04, 2014
Media swarms Highway Patrol's Captain Ron Johnson in Ferguson (photo: Michael B. Thomas, Getty Images)

Federal air safety regulators, at the request of local police, barred media helicopters from flying over Ferguson, Missouri, during the August protests of the shooting of Michael Brown, the Associated Press reported.


Using documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the AP found that a no-fly zone put up by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was intended in part to keep television cameras from recording street violence and the police response in the wake of Brown’s killing.  Law enforcement had insisted at the time that the no-fly zone was created for safety purposes only.


The AP reported that one FAA manager said in a recording: “They [St. Louis police] finally admitted it really was to keep the media out.”


An FAA manager in Kansas City said police “did not care if you ran commercial traffic through this TFR (temporary flight restriction) all day long. They didn’t want media in there,” the AP’s Jack Gillum and Joan Lowy reported.


The FAA struggled at first to accommodate police’s request to prohibit news choppers from entering the restricted area because the agency’s rules don’t include a media-only ban. “There is really ... no option for a TFR that says, you know, ‘OK, everybody but the media is OK,’” an FAA official said.


But the agency eventually figured out a way to target the no-fly zone at the media.

Civil libertarians expressed serious concerns over the revelations.


“Any evidence that a no-fly zone was put in place as a pretext to exclude the media from covering events in Ferguson is extraordinarily troubling and a blatant violation of the press’s First Amendment rights,” Lee Rowland, an American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney specializing in First Amendment issues, told the AP.


On Monday, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar held a news conference to deny the charges. “It’s always all about safety,” Belmar said. “We don’t have the ability to preclude people out of there for any other reason other than that.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Ferguson No-fly Zone Aimed at Media (by Jack Gillum and Joan Lowy, Associated Press)

Transcripts of FAA Phone Conversations about Ferguson No-fly Order (The Guardian)

Police: FAA No-Fly Zone Over Ferguson Not Meant To Ban Media (by Ashley Fantz, CNN)


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