Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Blogger jailed after defying court orders
He was subpoenaed by grand jury, ordered to turn over video he took at anticapitalist protest in San Francisco.
The New York Times
By Jesse McKinley
SAN FRANCISCO--A freelance journalist and blogger was jailed on Tuesday after refusing to turn over video he took at an anticapitalist protest here last summer and after refusing to testify before a grand jury looking into accusations that crimes were committed at the protest.
The freelancer, Josh Wolf, 24, was taken into custody just before noon after a hearing in front of Judge William Alsup of Federal District Court. Found in contempt, Wolf was later moved to a federal prison in Dublin, Calif., and could be imprisoned until next summer, when the grand jury term expires, said his lawyer, Jose Luis Fuentes.
Earlier this year, federal prosecutors subpoenaed Wolf to testify before a grand jury and turn over video from the demonstration, held in the Mission District on July 8, 2005. The protest, tied to a Group of 8 meeting of world economic leaders in Scotland, ended in a clash between demonstrators and the San Francisco police, with one officer sustaining a fractured skull.
A smoke bomb or a firework was also put under a police car, and investigators are looking into whether arson was attempted on a government-financed vehicle.
Wolf, who posted some of the edited video on his Web site, www.joshwolf.net, and sold some of it to local television stations, met with investigators, who wanted to see the raw video. But Wolf refused to hand over the tapes, arguing that he had the right as a journalist to shield his sources.
On Tuesday, Judge Alsup disagreed, ruling that the grand jury "has a legitimate need" to see what Wolf filmed.
Wolf, a recent college graduate, is the latest journalist to face prison time for refusing to cooperate with federal investigators. Last year, the New York Times reporter Judith Miller served nearly three months in jail after refusing to divulge her sources in the investigation of the leak of a covert CIA agent's name.
Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, said that although the jailing of journalists had become more common, Wolf's case was the first she had heard of in which a blogger had been pursued and eventually jailed by federal authorities.
"There is a tendency on the part of the prosecutors to go aggressively after people not perceived to have a big gun behind them," Kirtley said. "They are the most vulnerable links in the chain."
While California has a so-called shield law meant to protect journalists and their sources, no such law exists at the federal level. Even if there was such a law, Kirtley said, it is unclear whether a blogger and freelancer would fall under it.
According to his Web site, Wolf has been active in his defense, holding news conferences and posting interviews and newspaper articles on his site. On Tuesday, however, the site's last message read, "This blog will be updated sometime shortly after my hearing ... wish me luck guys!"
Wolf has attracted supporters, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which introduced a resolution objecting to the federal government's role in the investigation. The Society of Professional Journalists contributed to Wolf's legal defense fund.
Fuentes said he had already prepared an appeal and would file it immediately. He also planned to ask for bail, though he was not certain where the money to post it would come from. "His mother has been trying to fund-raise," Fuentes said. "But he might lose his job."
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