(NOTE: Please see the related further Activism Update.)
In a July 22 letter to the Baton Rouge Advocate, a representative of the Federal Emergency Management Agency responded to an Advocate report (7/15/06) that the government agency was severely limiting access to Hurricane Katrina survivors living in FEMA trailer parks.
But the letter from James Stark, director of FEMA's Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office, avoided dealing with the specific limits on access described by Advocate reporter Sandy Davis. Instead, Stark simply stated that FEMA "policies do not restrict any FEMA group site resident from speaking to members of the media. Likewise, there is no policy that requires a FEMA representative to be present when a resident talks with the media."
Stark also pointed out that FEMA's privacy "safeguards" (unspecified by Stark) are "intended to protect an individual's right to privacy as he or she recovers from personal losses caused by Katrina."
It seems difficult to square Stark's claim about FEMA's policy with the statement by FEMA spokesperson Rachel Rodi quoted in the Advocate: "If a resident invites the media to the trailer, they have to be escorted by a FEMA representative who sits in on the interview....That's just a policy." How likely is it that a FEMA spokesperson is misinformed about FEMA's policies on FEMA spokespersons?
But it is almost beside the point whether Katrina victims' access to the press is being restricted by official policy or unofficial practice. The Advocate piece provided two specific examples of residents of FEMA camps being told by FEMA security guards that they were "not allowed" to talk to media. (Another example, recorded on audio tape, was broadcast by Democracy Now!—4/24/06.) Stark’s letter simply ignores those incidents, providing neither an apology nor an explanation for these civil liberties violations. Thus FAIR repeats its call for an investigation by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security.
Inspector General Richard L. Skinner
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528