Blogger remains jailed over footage

Videographer defied order to hand over tape of police clash

February 08, 2007|By Adam Schreck | Adam Schreck,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Freelance videographer Josh Wolf defied in July a federal grand jury's order to hand over raw footage of anarchists clashing with police in San Francisco.

He said he was protected by the First Amendment. A federal judge said he was in contempt of court.

On Aug. 1, the 24-year-old blogger reported to the federal detention facility in Dublin, Calif., and has been there since - except for a brief period in September. As of Tuesday, he had been incarcerated longer than any journalist in modern U.S. history.

Wolf's mother, a third-grade teacher from Wrightwood, Calif., will be on Capitol Hill today to lobby members of Congress to help free her son. Liz Wolf-Spada also plans to push for a federal shield law that would protect mainstream journalists as well as independent journalists and bloggers like her son.

A police officer was injured in the anti-globalization protest that Wolf filmed in July 2005, and outgoing U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan's office is investigating whether protesters tried to torch a police car. Prosecutors argue that because federal money helped pay for the police car, the matter should be heard in federal court. Ryan spokesman Luke Macaulay said the grand jury needs the video to "determine what, if any, crimes were committed."

In a statement posted on his blog Tuesday, Wolf - who sold some of his footage to San Francisco television stations - explained his decision not to comply with the grand jury's request.

"If the U.S. Attorney can compel journalists to testify about what they've learned through their work and to force them to turn over their unpublished materials then not only will the public be unable to trust reporters but journalists themselves will become de facto deputies and investigators," read the message attributed to Wolf at

Supporters contend that his case is similar to that of two Chronicle reporters, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, who could face up to 18 months in federal prison for refusing to cooperate with subpoenas to name their confidential sources for leaked grand jury testimony about steroid use in baseball. Last month, two congressmen called on Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to withdraw those subpoenas.

California, like several other states, has a shield law that protects journalists employed by news organizations from having to reveal the identities of unnamed sources or produce unpublished materials. That state law does not apply to Wolf, however, because his case is being tried in federal court.

Wolf's case has won the support of several media watchdog groups that see his incarceration as an attack on press freedom.

Lucie Morillon, who is head of the Washington office of the international group Reporters Without Borders, said there was debate within her organization about Wolf's status as a journalist. The group was convinced, in part, by the fact that he had sold some of the footage to mainstream news organizations, she said.

Adam Schreck writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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