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.
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 officers 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 Wolfs 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 publics 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
Thats 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.
Wolfs 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,
To view SPJs legal documents pertaining to Wolfs case,
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.