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Legal Support for Citizen Journalist

The California First Amendment Coalition has joined other supporters of journalism in filing a legal brief on behalf of Josh Wolf. He’s in jail for contempt of court, because he refused to hand over to the federal government out-takes of footage he shot at a street demonstration in San Francisco.

While Wolf’s sympathies may well have been with the demonstrators, he was engaging in journalism when he shot that footage. And under California’s Shield Law he’d be protected from this kind of demand from state or local authorities.

But the federal government, using a pretext so flimsy that it would be laughable if the issue wasn’t so serious — it says there’s a federal case because federal tax dollars helped pay for a city police car that was damaged in the demonstration — is carving out a huge hole in the state shield law. If the U.S. government can do this in this case, it can basically neuter all state shield laws.

Other organizations involved in this brief include the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Society of Professional Journalists and the WIW Freedom to Write Fund.

(Note: I’m on the board of directors of of the California First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit organization.)

2 Comments on “Legal Support for Citizen Journalist”

  1. #1 Center for Citizen Media: Blog » Blog Archive » Sanity to Prevail in Journalist’s Jailing?
    on Sep 1st, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    […] A lot is at stake in this case, as I noted in a previous posting. […]

  2. #2 dan mcquillan
    on Apr 16th, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    Now that Josh is free at last we can concentrate on lessons learned.

    I’ve a different view than Josh about the most important lesson of his imprisonment. His focus is the legal situation of journalists in the States, whereas I see more of a threat to the web as a participative space.

    From a human rights perspective, my proposition is that we drop the category of journalist all together and find other terms for our right to participate and to be heard. As i ask in the post “In harsh times, is it enough to be reporters, or do we need to become defenders?”

    I would welcome a debate with those who are active in the field of citizen journalism.