Thursday, March 08, 2007

Anarchist Blogger Rightly Spends 200 Days In Jail

This story about a man self described as "an artist, an activist, an anarchist and an archivist" is no doubt going to be used by some to bolster the idea that our free press is under siege, and that we need more "journalist privilege" rules for the very sake of democracy. (Most of those people - coincidentally - will make their living at newspapers, know bloggers and other online media are obliterating their circulation numbers and profits, and merely want to make their club more exclusive.) But it actually says just the opposite - that such rules are absurd, arguably unconstitutional, and certainly unworkable.

Here's what happened:
Josh Wolf, a 24-year-old blogger, has spent more than six months behind bars in California -- the longest contempt-of-court term ever served by someone in the media -- for refusing to turn over a videotape he shot of a violent San Francisco demonstration against a Group of Eight summit meeting. Unless a mediation session today can break the impasse, he will likely remain imprisoned at least until the current grand jury's term expires in July.
***
Wolf taped the anarchists' San Francisco protest, against a G-8 summit meeting in Scotland, in July 2005. One police officer, Peter Shields, had his skull fractured by a hooded assailant with a pipe or baseball bat. Three people were charged in the attack. Police say protesters also put a mattress under Shields's police car and tried to set it on fire.
The First Amendment makes us ALL journalists by birthright, and the Internet gives reality to this great promise. Some journalists are professionals, but enough of us are part-timers (especially now) that any definition that would include this guy would necessarily include more US citizens that it would exclude. The Constitution and subsequent amendments made no provision for an insulated journalist class, nor should it have. Creating standards to define "real" journalists only limits the proliferation of a robust, diverse, and free information distribution system that is accessible to all.

In other words, journalist shield laws passed in the name of a free press would actually abridge that free press, in direct contravention of the clear language of the First Amendment.

We are all citizens with the same rights to see, report, publish, and disseminate information. We are also all citizens with the same responsibilities to our justice system - to report for jury duty when asked, to answer subpoenas when served, and to testify truthfully at a tribunal when properly summoned. No penumbra emanating from anywhere grants an exception just because you happen to own a New York Times press pass - or a blog URL.

I'm just glad the judge in this case has the fortitude to keep him in jail, refusing to let justice take a back seat to big-media pressure groups.

2 comments:

SirWhoopass said...

His mother claims, "They want him to testify so they can develop a list of who protests in San Francisco."

I think the authorities may be more interested in a list of people who beat others in the head with iron pipes.

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