June 16, 2006

San Francisco reporter asserts right to remain silent before federal grand jury

Journalist Josh Wolf recalls protest demonstration captured on video.

Attorney Ben Rosenfield seen in background at left, with Carlos Villarreal,
director of the NLG San Francisco

A San Francisco journalist avoided jail time yesterday despite refusal to answer federal grand jury questioning on his unpublished work.

Hours earlier U.S. District Judge William ordered freelance video journalist Josh Wolf to answer prosecutor questions based on an FBI subpoena.

Prosecutors told Wolf he was free to go after Wolf maintained his right to remain silent and to discuss posed questions with legal counsel, according to his attorney.

It was the second subpoena issued by the FBI demanding unpublished footage of a January 8, 2005, anarchist demonstration be surrendered to investigators.

A San Francisco police officer was hit over the head by a demonstrator at the protest, Wolf's attorney concedes. Portions of video were televised locally.

Attorney Ben Rosenfield described the incident as "deplorable" but charged federal authorities with ongoing efforts to override reporter shield acts provided by 33 states. Rosenfield is the lead attorney of legal defense provided by the National Lawyers Guild (NLG).

In California, reporters shielded by statute and constitution from judicial order to surrender unpublished material.

"So it is a sad day when the federal government can render these state protections irrelevant and when local police and prosecutors cooperate or are at least complicit," added Carlos Villarreal, director of the NLG San Francisco.

Villarreal described federal intervention as an attack on free speech.

"So this is an all out assault on free speech - the freedom to gather information and disseminate that information to the public and the freedom to organize politically.

"The public benefits tremendously from a free press and the media serves a critical purpose in our democracy.

"Journalists must not feel that the government is over their shoulder when they do their work and their subjects, whether whistleblowers or political activists taking on an unpopular stand, should not feel the media is just an arm of government.

"That is why we have a shield law for journalists in California - to protect the public and preserve the benefits of a free press.


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