Protect the Right to Report on Civil Unrest

news helicopter

Target: Michael Huerta, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration

Goal: Protect the right of the press to film and report on protests and civil unrest from the air

A media spotlight was thrown on Ferguson, Missouri after the police shooting of an unarmed black teen led to widespread civil unrest. Reporters attempting to cover the story from television helicopters were thwarted by local law enforcement, whose request for a “no-fly zone” over Ferguson was granted. While police claimed the request was made to ensure public safety, it was later revealed that the real reason for wanting a no-fly zone was to restrict media coverage of the growing protests.

The St. Louis County police department repeatedly claimed that shots fired at a police helicopter prompted the request, yet no damage was ever found and no report on the incident was ever filed. Phone recordings of police officials speaking with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were later made public, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request. The Associated Press reports that these recordings “raise serious questions about whether police were trying to suppress aerial images of the demonstrations and the police response by violating the constitutional rights of journalists with tacit assistance by federal officials.”

The police department, which has faced intense criticism for its handling of the Ferguson protests and for its pattern of brutality, continues to deny there was any attempt to block out media coverage. St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar said in an interview with the Huffington Post that any such admissions may have been “informal conversations” that were “taken out of context.”

Media coverage of events such as the Ferguson protests are essential to keeping the public informed and the police accountable. Demand that the FAA require proof of risk to public safety before granting no-fly zones over areas experiencing protest or civil unrest.


Dear Administrator Huerta,

The St. Louis County police department’s request for a no-fly zone over Ferguson, Missouri was granted by your administration, despite a lack of any proof that such a restriction would protect the public. There is in fact evidence to suggest that the real reason for wanting a no-fly zone was to restrict media access in clear violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of the press. Such a media blackout could actually put the public at increased risk of harm. The FAA should under no circumstances approve such requests during times of unrest without evidence that a failure to do so will endanger the public.

Law enforcement claimed that unknown shooters attempted to bring down a police helicopter, yet they could produce no evidence–not even an incident report. Their rationale made even less sense after air space remained open to police yet closed to all other air traffic. Please, do your sworn duty and protect the American public from this abuse of power. Demand proof of a public safety threat before enacting any no-fly zones over areas experiencing widespread protest or civil unrest.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Fletcher6 via Wikimedia Commons

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