24-year-old American blogger Josh Wolf shot some video of an anti-globalism protest in the Mission District of San Francisco on 8 July 2005. Wolf posted some edited video of the protest on his website and also sold some footage to local TV stations.
On 1 July 2006, a grand jury ordered Wolf to turn over his footage to the court. See also Wolf’s own Grand Jury Resource Page. Naturally, like any good journalist, Wolf refused to turn over the video on the basis of protection of confidentiality of his news sources. Wolf was found in contempt and taken into custody and may now potentially be held in a federal prison until the term of the grand jury expires next July.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Wolf. Wolf’s mum has taken over posting updates to his website while he is incarcerated. On the upside, Wolf’s case will be heard before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has a reputation of being somewhat liberal or left-of-centre in their judgements, meaning Wolf will most likely be freed upon hearing his appeal.
There are no federal shield laws in the US protecting a journalist’s right to conceal sources, though California has a shield law. Most US courts will, on the basis of tradition, grant an exception to allow journalists and publishers to maintain the confidentiality of their sources. If the courts wish to press the point, journalists can be imprisoned, as was Judith Miller of the New York Times for her role in the leak of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame to the press. Wolf is being held in contempt on a federal grand jury investigation, so the California shield law does not apply. Also, there’s no specific legal definition of a “journalist” in the US, though any person who collects information for publication in the public interest is normally considered to be a journalist.
If journalists can not protect the confidentiality of their sources, there will simply be no sources. If the Bush Administration can get away with this, when government wants to suppress bad news about themselves, all they will have to do is jail a few journos to chill public speech.
Wolf is appealing for donations for his defence, anticipating up to $US15,000 in attorney’s fees and court costs. I’ve sent Josh a small donation; won’t you?