National Lawyers Guild Condemns Attack on Free Press
San Francisco video journalist Josh Wolf is being charged with civil contempt for exercising his first amendment right and refusing to provide a federal grand jury with video footage he shot at a protest last summer. The Guild believes that the grand jury is being improperly used to obtain materials which would normally be protected under California's Reporter Shield Law. The civil contempt hearing is scheduled for July 20th at 1 p.m. before Judge William Alsup and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) will host a press conference at noon in front of the Federal Building-450 Golden Gate in San Francisco on that day.
The US Attorney's Office, led by Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Finigan, are attempting to force Wolf to testify before the grand jury and hand over a video tape of a protest that occurred in San Francisco's Mission District last July.
"My client's political activity and free speech activity in the Bay Area as a journalist and this subpoena, with its associated threat of jail time for noncompliance, has an incredible chilling effect on his and other journalist's freedom to gather and disseminate information of groups who espouse dissident beliefs," said Attorney Jose Luis Fuentes, of the Oakland based Siegel & Yee firm, who is representing Wolf on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild.
The use of federal grand juries to target journalists and political activists who are critical of the repressive domestic and international policies of the United States government is an attack on democratic free speech activity. The implications of Josh Wolf's case go well beyond a single journalist or protest. "Like the Judith Miller case or the BALCO case this is about the government's ability to take an independent and free press and treat it as an investigatory arm of the government," said Carlos Villarreal, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area. "The people of California have made it clear through our shield law that we prefer a free press that doesn't have the government constantly looking over its shoulder."
California's shield law, according to a recent court decision on the matter, "is intended to protect the gathering and dissemination of news." In that decision, the California Court of Appeals in San Jose confirmed that the law protected internet bloggers just as it protected corporate news reporters. Federal protections are not as strong.
"People protesting or on strike for better wages or marching for amnesty should feel free to do so in front of journalist's cameras, just as they should feel free to talk to journalists," said Wolf. "A free press benefits all of us," he said.
Court documents and past news articles can be found at joshwolf.net/grandjury