Journalist could be jailed for refusing to surrender video to
Josh Wolf, 24, faces a contempt of court charge brought about
by federal investigators purportedly interested in identifying
anarchists who may have been involved in torching a San Francisco
police car at a 2005 protest demonstration.
From Reporters without Borders
July 30, 2006
Reporters Without Borders protested today against attempts by
the US attorney's office to have freelance journalist Josh Wolf
held in contempt of court for refusing to surrender video he shot
of anti-G8 demonstrations in San Francisco in July 2005. The request
is to be heard before a federal court in San Francisco tomorrow.
"This situation highlights how urgent it is for the US Congress
to recognise the right of journalists to protect the confidentiality
of their sources, a right that is absolutely essential to their
work and to the American people's right to be informed,"
the press freedom organisation said. "This right of protecting
their sources is recognised in a number of US states but not at
the federal level."
Reporters Without Borders added: "As journalists are not
police auxiliaries, Congress must quickly support the proposed
federal shield law that would guarantee them 'a qualified privilege'
as regards the protection of their sources. The Free Flow of Information
Act would extend the same protection to journalists at the federal
level that they enjoy in 32 states."
This bill has been introduced in the Senate last May by Richard
Lugar (R-Indiana) and Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut). A similar
bill has been introduced in the House by Mike Pence (R-Indiana)
and Rick Boucher (D-Virginia).
Wolf filmed the demonstrations. He posted his footage on his
website and it was aired by Kron TV, an independent news station.
After circulating on the Internet, it was picked up by local affiliates
of national TV networks.
After seeing the published footage, assistant US attorney Jeffrey
Finigan asked Wolf to hand over all of the unedited footage he
had shot of the incident. The government assertion's is that someone
attempted to set a police car on fire.
Wolf denied having any more detailed footage of the object of
the investigation or witnessing the alleged incident. He insisted
that he was anyway protected by a Californian shield law under
which journalists have the right both to protect the confidentiality
of their sources and to refuse to surrender unpublished material
At tomorrow's civil contempt hearing, Wolf faces the possibility
of immediate imprisonment as well as having to between 10,000
and 15,000 dollars in lawyers' fees for his defence and for a
Wolf told Reporters Without Borders he was nervous about the
outcome, as the judge has behaved unpredictably throughout the
At the same time, Wolf referred to the support he is receiving
from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which is expected
tomorrow to pass a resolution defending his rights as a journalist
and calling on the federal authorities to respect the confidentiality
of sources for the sake of press freedom, as laid down in the
First Amendment to the US constitution.
More information on this case: http://joshwolf.net/grandjury/