NPR News’ recent report of activism in Houston dissects the fine line between peaceful protest and public disturbance. Greenpeace protesters, tied to ropes and carrying streamers, rappelled off of Houston’s Fred Hartman Bridge, blocking a ship channel through which oil from Shell and Exxon Mobil is imported and exported. More oil is exported through Houston than anywhere else in the country, and the activists’ plan was to block the ship channel with their bodies for the entire day in order to stop the ships from transporting crude oil. Fossil fuels are an unsustainable source and their use is a significant detriment to the environment. NPR News does a good job explaining the activists’ motives and including quotes from the protesters that do not necessarily imply that NPR supports or disagrees with their actions. The information one would garner from reading the beginning of the article is that, simply, Greenpeace is an environmental organization, they do not support the use of crude oil, and that is why the members wanted to stage a demonstration on the Hartman Bridge.
In the end, the protesters were arrested and lowered onto police boats. The protesters state that they are being silenced, and that the police are protecting the interests of the oil companies, not the environment. NPR News also states this as the Greenpeace protesters’ viewpoint, not as fact. What NPR does do, though, is introduce us to a new law that was passed in Texas aiming to protect the state’s pipelines, ports and refineries – that anyone who disrupts these areas is now disrupting “critical infrastructure,” and will be arrested. This is an excellent way to convey new information – if the article’s headline had been “NEW LAW PASSED BANNING PEOPLE FROM DISRUPTING PORTS AND OIL PIPES”, I doubt it would have been as effective as a story conveying the message, “peaceful protesters, exercising their First Amendment right, first to be charged under a new law that protects private oil infrastructure.” The story itself is not focused on the Greenpeace activists, or framing the police – its mission is to tell us a message about the shift in climate change advocacy and the new protections in place for private oil companies – all rolled into an eye-catching headline.