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Society of Professional Journalists awards $30,000 to defend jailed independent journalist

Josh Wolf, 24, was jailed August 1 after Federal Judge William Alsup found Wolf in contempt of court, a charge brought about by federal investigators purportedly interested in Wolf's videotape footage identifying anarchists who may have been involved in torching a San Francisco police car at a 2005 G-8 protest demonstration.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

From the Society of Professional Journalists

August 25, 2006

CHICAGO – The Society of Professional Journalists has awarded the largest grant ever from its Legal Defense Fund to help defend jailed independent journalist Joshua Wolf.

Wolf shot video footage of an anti-G8 protest in San Francisco last summer. During the demonstration, a San Francisco police car was vandalized and one police officer’s skull was fractured. Wolf sold some of his footage to television stations.

California authorities chose not to attempt to prosecute those responsible, but a federal prosecutor convened a grand jury and demanded that Wolf turn over outtakes from his footage. The journalist, 24, refused. He was found in civil contempt and sent to a federal prison in Dublin, Calif., on Aug. 1. He could remain there until the grand jury term expires next July.

The SPJ board of directors, meeting in Chicago for its National Journalism Conference and Convention, voted 23-0 to award a $30,000 grant to pay half of Wolf’s legal fees. This is in addition to a $1,000 LDF grant awarded to Wolf last month.

“This case is evidence of a disturbing trend in which federal prosecutors are attempting to turn journalists into arms of law enforcement,” said SPJ President David Carlson. “It cannot be allowed to continue. The public’s right to know will be forever harmed.”

The U.S. attorney claimed jurisdiction in the case saying that because the San Francisco Police Department receives federal grant money, some portion of the damaged police car was paid for with federal funds.

“That’s ludicrous,” Carlson said. “Under that scenario, a child who breaks a window at any public school in America could be accused of a federal crime.”

Carlson also is the Cox/Palm Beach Post Professor of Journalism at the University of Florida.

“This young man was jailed for standing up for his journalistic principles,” Carlson said. “If prosecutors are allowed to compel journalists to turn over notes or video footage, citizens will be less likely to cooperate in the news-gathering process, and all of us will suffer. The very basis of self government is an informed public, and we all will be less informed if citizens worry that talking to a journalist could land them in jail.

“This is another case that vividly demonstrates the need for a federal law to protect journalists from being turned into pseudo police,” Carlson said. “Journalists must be able to work independently to be effective.”

Wolf’s legal bills were nearing $100,000, but his lawyers at Siegel & Yee in Oakland, Calif., agreed to cap the fees at $60,000. SPJ has pledged $31,000 and is challenging other journalism organizations to contribute to the cause.

For further information about Josh Wolf or to obtain video footage, visit www.joshwolf.net/blog. To view SPJ’s legal documents pertaining to Wolf’s case, visit www.spj.org/boardmeeting.asp.

The Legal Defense Fund is a unique account that can be used to provide journalists with legal assistance. All the funds are donated through fundraisers. Applications for assistance of up to $1,000 can be approved by a three-person committee. The full board of directors must approve amounts greater than $1,000.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.




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