Friday, March 16, 2007

Jailed journalist's case shows federal shield law needed

The First Amendment guarantees a free press, radio newswoman Amy Goodman of the "Democracy Now!" program reminds us, and government that forces journalists to surrender notes and names, tapes and more is "abridging the freedom ... of the press."

In the case of San Francisco journalist Josh Wolf, it's more than academic. He's been in jail for almost six months, becoming the record-holder for reporters jailed for refusing to comply with a subpoena. His case also shows the extent to which the federal government is willing to go to get around states' shield laws protecting journalists from such fishing expeditions.

Background: A police officer was injured after his squad car drove into a demonstration protesting a G-8 Summit almost two years ago, but local prosecutors dropped charges. Wolf, a freelance videographer, says he wasn't taping either that incident or damages to the squad car (which had a taillight broken), but because the car was partly bought using federal anti-terrorism funds, the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force convened a grand jury to hear testimony about attempted arson. The grand jury demanded all of Wolf's raw video, he refused to comply, and federal prosecutors jailed him indefinitely.

U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan even made light of Wolf's standing since he's a freelancer and blogger.
However, the Society of Professional Journalists isn't laughing.

"Josh's commitment to a free and unfettered press deserves profound respect," said SPJ president Christin Tatum.

Read Goodman's piece -- and why it points to a need for Congress to pass a nationwide shield law --

No comments: