Hidden Pressures

920x920In 2006, Josh Wolf, a freelance video journalist, was sentenced to 7 1/2 months in jail for defying a grand jury subpoena for his video footage of the 2005 protest in San Francisco. Wolf refused to turn over his collection of recordings that revealed confrontations between police officers and anti-G8 protesters.

While Wolf published some of these videos on his personal blog, http://www.joshwolf.net, federal officials were demanding that he turn over the unpublished ones. Feds claimed that they might have been able to find footage of a police officer who was seriously injured and police cars being set aflame, which calculates as a federal crime since the Police Department receives federal funds and since police cars are partly U.S. government property. Wolf, however, said that his videos had no evidence of crime at all and denied having footage of the damaged police car. He resisted “what he sees as the government’s attempt to force him to identify various activists captured in his tapes.” He expressed,

“It goes against every moral fiber in my body to sit back and out people for their political beliefs.”

What is important about this case is the absolute need for federal shield laws that “protect journalists, including bloggers, from having to disclose confidential sources or unpublished material.” What is also critical is the protection of not only just media employees, but also bloggers and independent journalists who are not supported by journalism organizations. The federal appeals court in California did not consider Wolf a “real” journalist, since he was not employed by any news organization or agency. With that, the court upheld his imprisonment. On the other hand, Wolf deems himself a journalist who “came out to the protest to document it and to provide the truth to the public.” He stated,

“We shouldn’t have government deciding who is or isn’t a journalist.”

Ultimately, Wolf made a deal and was released from prison after answering 2 questions under oath: “whether he ever saw anyone throw or shoot any object at a police car or learned about anyone who did so, and whether he knew whom Officer Peter Shields was trying to arrest when he was hit from behind and suffered a fractured skull.”

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