CPJ calls for release of imprisoned journalist Josh Wolf

New York, March 29, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called for the release of video blogger Josh Wolf, who has been jailed longer than any reporter in U.S. history after refusing to provide raw video footage of July 2005 San Francisco street protests to a federal grand jury.

“No more purpose is served by keeping you in jail,” CPJ board chairman and Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Paul E. Steiger told Wolf by telephone today. Steiger spoke with Wolf during a conference call that included CPJ founder and board member Michael Massing, CPJ board member and Oregonian Editor Sandra Mims Rowe, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon, and Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. Listen to Wolf explain why he’s a journalist under the law (mp3)

Wolf, 24, is being held at the Federal Detention Center in Dublin, California. He has been jailed for nearly eight months for refusing to turn over his unedited footage to a federal grand jury investigating vandalism to a police car during the protests. Wolf filmed an anti-G-8 demonstration with the intention of posting the footage on his Web site which contains commentary, news, and video clips dating back to January 2005. He later sold portions of the footage to a San Francisco television station.

Federal rather than California state prosecutors are pursuing the case against Wolf because they allege that federal funds were used to purchase the damaged police vehicle. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Finigan said in a January 29 court filing that Wolf’s “resolve to remain confined rather than comply with the grand jury subpoena is apparently fueled by his anointment as a journalistic martyr.’’ Finigan called Wolf’s desire to protect his contacts “delusional.” The attorney said additional time in prison might help Wolf realize that “he does not even qualify as a journalist” but that he was “simply a person with a video camera who happened to record some public events.’’

“If it’s any consolation, all of us think you’re a journalist,” Steiger told Wolf. “My view at least … is that you’ve been in jail long enough, that you are not going to be coerced into testifying,” Steiger added.

“We look at this issue from a global perspective,” noted CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “If Wolf had been doing what he was doing in China, or Uzbekistan, or Zimbabwe instead of San Francisco there would be no question about his journalistic credentials.”

Under federal guidelines, U.S. attorneys can subpoena journalists only after exhausting all other means of obtaining the necessary information and with the personal approval of the attorney general. Prosecutors have argued that they were not bound by the guidelines because they did not consider Wolf to be a journalist.

During the conference call, Wolf said he was concerned not only by the request from prosecutors that he provide his footage, but also that he identify masked protestors to the grand jury.

“They’ve stated in newspapers that they’re seeking me to identify potential witnesses,” Wolf told CPJ. “[That’s] akin to outing anarchists who are wearing masks, and are my contacts, which suddenly turns me into being an investigator for the federal government and no longer a journalist bringing issues to the public forefront.”

The CPJ delegation spoke with Wolf from CPJ’s New York office after prison authorities rejected an official request for a face-to-face meeting. A letter sent by prison warden Schelia A. Clark to CPJ’s Steiger on March 16 noted only visits from Wolf’s attorney and immediate family members were authorized.

In addition to working as a video blogger, Wolf served as Outreach Coordinator for California’s Peralta.TV before being jailed on August 1. Wolf was later briefly released on bail pending appeal but was ordered back to jail in September.