Big news for journalists, both citizens and staffers: On April 3, just two days after a Blast Magazine article profiling his incarceration and amongst growing pressure from all around, San Francisco-based journalist, Josh Wolf, was released from federal prison after spending 226 days in incarceration for refusing to testify about an anarchist demonstration he covered.
Wolf, 24, who became the victim of the longest contempt of court term served by a media figure, agreed to hand over video footage of a San Francisco street protest against a 2005 G-8 summit in Scotland. In return, he will not have to testify in court.
Federal officials requested the tape as evidence for an investigation into events at the protest, during which a San Francisco police officer was injured and a police car was set on fire.
The affair ignited a heated debate over whether or not Wolf, who owns and operates his own blog site, is a professional journalist. Having no official ties with any media institution, it was disputed as to whether or not Wolf should receive the same protection as working journalists, evoking undertones of the First Amendment.
Wolf’s mother, who spearheaded a media campaign on her son’s behalf, used the case to push for a national shield law that would protect professional journalists from revealing their confidential sources.
So far, over 30 states and Washington D.C. have adopted sort of shield law. The federal government has not.
The saga of Josh Wolf has resonated loud and clear throughout media circles; should he be viewed as a professional journalist? And if so, should he be granted the same protection to which most other journalists are entitled? What will this mean for the Internet and the massive “blogosphere?”
Although Wolf has been released, the debate over shield laws and the definition of a “journalist” is up in the air. In the Internet age, everyone has the ability to post their opinions and multimedia on the web, but as the media world has seen in Wolf’s case, not everyone has been afforded the same rights.
“Journalists absolutely have to remain independent of law enforcement,” Wolf said outside the prison where he had been held since August 1. “Otherwise, people will never trust journalists.”
Reports indicate that the videotape, which Wolf also posted on his Web site, does not contain footage of the alleged incidents. But, according to Wolf, the video was not his main concern. He agreed to hand over the tape on the condition that he would not be called to testify.
“Although I feel that my unpublished material should be shielded from government demands, it was the testimony which I found to be the more egregious assault on my right and ethics as both a journalist and a citizen,” Wolf said in a statement after his release.
Elizabeth Raftery and John Guilfoil, both of the Blast Magazine staff, also contributed to this report.