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White House says Ferguson no-fly zone didn’t restrict press

Jack Gillum Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The White House said Monday a no-fly zone the U.S. government imposed over Ferguson, Missouri, for nearly two weeks in August should not have restricted helicopters for news organizations that wanted to operate in the area to cover violent protests there.

Audio recordings obtained by the Associated Press showed the Federal Aviation Administration working with local authorities to define a 37-square-mile flight restriction so that only police helicopters and commercial flights could fly through the area, following demonstrations over the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The Obama administration’s defense of its actions centered on a provision of obscure federal regulations intended to allow press flights as long as they meet certain conditions. White House spokesman Josh Earnest sidestepped questions about conversations on the tapes showing police working with the FAA to keep media away.

“In this case, what the FAA says is that they took the prudent step of implementing the temporary flight restriction in the immediate aftermath of reports of shots fired at a police helicopter, but within 12 to 14 hours, that flight restriction was updated in a way to remove restrictions for reporters who were seeking to operate in the area,” Earnest said.

But the administration’s statement about what it believes should have happened under the no-fly rules is inconsistent with what actually happened during the period. None of the St. Louis television stations was advised that media helicopters could enter the airspace even under the lesser restrictions. The FAA’s no-fly notice indicated the area was closed to all aircraft except police and planes coming to and from the airport.

The flight restrictions remained in place until Aug. 22, FAA records show.

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