For almost two weeks in August, the U.S. government agreed to restrict more than 37 square miles of airspace around Ferguson, Missouri, at the request of local police. Audio recordings obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act strongly suggest that local authorities mostly wanted to keep news helicopters from filming protests against the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9.
The Federal Aviation Administration imposed the flight restrictions on Aug. 11, AP reports, and air traffic managers had to scramble to allow commercial flights to operate at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and let police helicopters fly through the area while banning others. An FAA manager said on tape that St. Louis County Police "finally admitted it really was to keep media out."
This contradicts the St. Louis County Police Department, which said the restriction was for safety reasons and was not to keep media from reporting on the protests. As recently as Friday, local police told AP that a helicopter had been shot at, but they also confirmed there was no damage to the helicopter and did not provide AP with an incident report. An FAA manager was taped saying the shooting was one of several "rumors."
One station, KMOV-TV, planned to legally challenge the restrictions, but was then told the pilot could fly over the area as long as the helicopter did not drop below 3,000 feet. Filming from that high up was "less than ideal," news director Brian Thouvenot told AP. Read more about what was on the tapes at The Associated Press.