Blogger Jailed for Refusing to Turn Over Video Josh Wolf has spent more than two months in prison for refusing to turn over to federal prosecutors unedited video he shot of a protest. Prosecutors say the footage could help produce witnesses to a crime. Wolf says he's a journalist who shouldn't be forced to turn over material.
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Blogger Jailed for Refusing to Turn Over Video

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Blogger Jailed for Refusing to Turn Over Video


Blogger Jailed for Refusing to Turn Over Video

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A man who once described himself as an artist, an activist, an anarchist and an archivist has spent more than two months in a California prison for contempt of court. Federal prosecutors want video footage that Josh Wolf recorded at a San Francisco demonstration. Wolfe says he's a journalist who should not be forced to turn over his work. Here's NPR's Ari Shapiro.

ARI SHAPIRO: Josh Wolf is not a typical journalist. He's not on staff with any mainstream news organization, or any news organization at all, for that matter. Instead, when he has something to report, he posts it on his Web site, often in the form of a vlog, or a video blog.

Mr. JOSH WOLF (Online Journalist/Blogger): So you probably know by now I'm going to jail tomorrow.

SHAPIRO: He's 24 years old with big black sideburns and hipster glasses. He mostly covers left-wing activism. Sometimes he sells his footage of rallies and protests to local TV stations, whom he refers to as the corporate media. This was the video that landed him in jail.

(Soundbite of Josh Wolf's video)

Unidentified Woman: I don't know. No. We're going to get our views. We'll stay here.

Unidentified Man: Back off and disperse. (unintelligible)

(Soundbite of sirens)

SHAPIRO: Protesters gathered in San Francisco in July of 2005 to rally against a Global Economic Summit.

(Soundbite of Josh Wolf's video)

Unidentified Man: Pull strings!

Unidentified Group: Pull strings!

Unidentified Man: Pull strings!

SHAPIRO: Joshua Wolf's lawyer, Martin Garbus, describes the footage in a phone interview.

Mr. MARTIN GARBUS (Lawyer of Josh Wolf): Many of the demonstrators have masks. They called themselves anarchists, and they don't want to be observed by the other people who are taking videos around the site or movies around the site.

SHAPIRO: The videos shows protesters dragging newspaper boxes into the street and spray-painting the side of a bus.

Mr. GARBUS: It also shows a man being wrestled to the ground by the police.

SHAPIRO: That's not what interests federal prosecutors. Luke Macaulay is a spokesman for the San Francisco U.S. attorney's office.

Mr. LUKE MACAULAY (Spokesman, San Francisco U.S. Attorney's Office): An attempt was made to set a San Francisco Police Department car ablaze, and an officer's skull was fractured when he was hit from behind by a demonstrator. So we're conducting an investigation to look into this and to see what - if any - crimes were committed.

SHAPIRO: As part of the investigation, prosecutors asked Wolf to show his full, unedited footage to a grand jury. Wolf refused. He said he doesn't have any footage relating to those incidents. What he does have, according to his attorney who's seen the footage, is demonstrators taking off their masks and identifying themselves. Garbus believes his client is being forced to serve as an arm of the government.

Mr. GARBUS: It's just an extension of the government's attempt to get at dissent in the society. By looking at these people, by learning who they are, they can - if they're not already being closely watched - can be closely watched.

SHAPIRO: Prosecutors say people in the extra footage could be useful witnesses. And Luke Macaulay of the U.S. attorney's office argues that Josh Wolf has no right to withhold this material.

Mr. MACAULAY: The people of the country, taxpayers, expect that people who commit crimes are investigated. And that is part of what we're supposed to do. That's our job.

SHAPIRO: The State of California has a reporter's shield law. But that doesn't protect Josh Wolf, because prosecutors brought this case in federal court, and there is no federal shield law. That's one reason The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press wrote a friend-of-the-court brief on Wolf's behalf. Lucy Dalglish is the group's executive director.

Ms. LUCY DALGLISH (Executive director, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press): The government's behavior in this case in, I think, reaching for jurisdiction is troublesome. Because if this case would have been charged in state court in California, Mr. Wolf would not be sitting in jail.

SHAPIRO: That's assuming a court would have found that Wolf is a journalist. As a blogger, he's in uncertain territory. New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen says Wolf represents the way journalism is growing and changing.

Professor JAY ROSEN (Journalism, New York University): The press has professional and amateur wings now. And there maybe many cases in which the amateurs return the practice to its roots, its soul. I think that's highly likely in the future, and it's happening right now.

SHAPIRO: Rosen defines journalists by what they do, not who employs them. The law could take a broad view of who's a journalist. But Neil Richards, who teaches First Amendment Law at Washington University, says that could make prosecutor's jobs much more difficult.

Professor NEIL RICHARDS (Law, Washington University): If I were pulled before a grand jury and I had information relevant to a trial and I wanted to - I started a blog and I said I'm going to start blogging about public affairs and crimes. All of a sudden, if everybody is the press, I'm now the press and I have a press exemption to testify.

SHAPIRO: Josh Wolf, meanwhile, remains in prison. His lawyer says he'll stay there indefinitely rather than turnover his video footage. That could keep him behind bars until the grand jury's term expires in July.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News.

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