Freelance writer, blogger is set free

An American internet blogger who has spent longer in jail than any other journalist in US history has been finally released.

Josh Wolf, 24, was jailed in August for failing to overturn video footage and testify to a federal grand jury investigating vandalism to a police car, which the film apparently showed.

His refusal, based on the right to keep his source confidential, earned the writer a 226-day stay in a federal jail in California, much to the outrage of global media freedom groups.

But on Tuesday, Wolf walked free from the Dublin institution, thanks to a deal between his lawyers and prosecutors that culminated in Wolf posting the unedited footage on the internet.

After uploading the video onto his website - JoshWolf.net, the web diarist reportedly gave a copy to prosecutors, told them he had not witnessed any crimes and was promptly released.

His move to finally disclose the video, which depicts G8 protestors rioting in San Francisco and allegedly assaulting a policeman, was met by the government with an offer that Wolf can forego appearing to a grand jury.

According to the Associated Press, court papers now state that the US government considers Wolf to have complied with the grand jury subpoena, meaning he will not be called to identify those on his film.

Although his release has been welcomed by the media freedom lobbyists Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a series of new debates has begun.

Chiefly, these centre on whether Wolf was an activist – playing an active role in the 2005 riot he filmed, or whether he was there in his capacity as a media practitioner.

The issue of whether or not, Wolf as an internet blogger can be classed as a journalist has also persisted since his imprisonment last year.

Behind these debates lies the ultimate answer of whether the 24-year-old had rights to protect his source, regardless of further claims the crimes outweighed any privileges a journalist would be afforded.

However the furore hasn’t hurt Wolf’s passion for journalists to have the right to keep sources confidential.

“Journalists absolutely have to remain independent of law enforcement,'' Wolf was quoting as telling reporters outside the gates of the prison.

“Otherwise, people will never trust journalists.”

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“Josh gave up his freedom for [over] 224 days because he believes that a free and independent press cannot exist without a trusting relationship between a journalist and his information source,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

“The attacks on source confidentiality have been multiplying over the last few years, thereby jeopardising the right of Americans to be fully informed.

“Too many journalists have spent time in prison, or have been threatened with being sent there. It is the duty of the US congress to adopt, as soon as possible, a federal shield law that will acknowledge the right of journalists to protect their sources.”

Joel Simon, executive director of the CPJ, added: “We’re very relieved by news that Josh Wolf was finally released from federal prison.

“[However] the prosecution has expended large amounts of time, money, and effort on this case, and we are very concerned about the long-term implications for the press.”

According to RSF, the right of journalists to professional confidentiality is recognised by 33 states of the union.

The house of representatives of the northwestern state of Washington unanimously passed a “shield law” of this nature on February 16.

The Paris-based group said other shield laws are being debated by the states of Missouri, Utah, Massachusetts and Texas.

 

5th April 2007

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