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Following a report that revealed local authorities imposed a no-fly zone to keep journalists out of the Ferguson, Mo. area, the White House said Monday the U.S. government restriction should not have blocked helicopters for news organizations that wanted to cover police violence.

Audio obtained by the Associated Press, however, states otherwise. The tapes showed the Federal Aviation Administration working with authorities to define the area, a 37-square-mile flight restriction, to assist police helicopters and commercial flights only.

On the tapes, an FAA manager is heard assuring a St. Louis County Police Department official that the updated restrictions would allow planes to land at nearby Lambert-St. Louis International Airport but, “It will still keep news people out. … The only way people will get in there is if they give them permission in there anyway so … it still keeps all of them out.”

“Yeah,” replied a county police captain. “I have no problem with that whatsoever.”

But the Obama administration defended the U.S. government imposed restriction, centering on a “provision of obscure federal regulations intended to allow press flights as long as they meet certain conditions,” according to the AP.

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.

Authorities in Missouri also defended their actions, claiming the no-fly zone was never implemented to keep media away from the protests spurred by the killing of black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer.

In Missouri, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar defended his department’s involvement Monday, telling reporters that “at no time did we request that only media be kept out of the airspace.” The chief said the safety restrictions were prompted by reports of gunfire and that conversations on the tapes were “out of context.” He did not elaborate.

On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder stressed that the Justice Department was not involved in the FAA considerations.

“Anything that would artificially inhibit the ability of newsgatherers to do what they do is something I think needs to be avoided,” Holder said Monday.

The audio comes just days before a grand jury is expected to make a decision on whether to indict officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Brown. We’ll keep you updated with the latest. For more information regarding the audio obtained by the AP, click here.


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