After spending more than seven months in jail for refusing to comply with a subpoena, blogger Josh Wolf has struck a compromise with federal prosecutors, who demanded that he turn over the unedited video he shot of a 2005 San Francisco G8 Summit protest during which a police officer was seriously injured and, prosecutors argue, arson was attempted against a squad car. Wolf has long maintained that his video contained no relevant information about the crime, and that journalists should be protected from having to reveal confidential sources or disclose unpublished material. In return for giving over the entire video, Wolf will not have to testify about the protest or identify people seen in his tape. He’s also posted the whole thing on his blog, so you can see for yourself what the fuss was about. “I had wanted to reveal to you, the public, how ridiculous and without merit this matter is, but could not publish this tape until I had received assurances from the US Attorney that it would not be considered partial compliance and strengthen their claims that I might eventually be coerced,” he writes on his blog. Now what do you think? Worth seven months in jail?
Well, it might depend on what you think was at stake.
Wolf’s incarceration touched off a heated debate about whether or not bloggers should be considered journalists, and if they should enjoy the same legal protections as writers who are employed by traditional newsgathering organizations. However, he was embraced by organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists, which today released this statement from president Christine Tatum: “Josh has fought valiantly for good journalism, which is at the heart of this nation’s democracy. Sadly, there are no real winners here. Josh has avoided testimony, but his video footage is now public. Overzealous federal prosecutors forced the release of a journalist’s work product, and, in the process, have damaged a free press and the public’s ability to shed light on important issues without fear of retribution.”
“Many people may laugh at the notion that journalists work hard every day to minimize harm to their subjects — but it’s true. Good journalists are aggressive, but they also demonstrate tremendous discretion and restraint. Their cameras, computers and notebooks often contain far more information than they deem appropriate to release to the public. Lawyers who subpoena that information consistently demonstrate a lack of respect for professional and personal lives that could be harmed unnecessarily by publicizing a journalist’s work product.”