Wolf bane?

Kudos to Online Journalism Review for the best story I’ve seen yet about Josh Wolf, the video blogger who is sitting in a federal prison for refusing to hand over his unaired tapes (plus editing equipment & cameras) that he made while covering a demonstration that became target of a federal investigation. OJR put together the chronology, the case law and the nuances that separate his plight from that of mainstream media folks (including two of my SF Chronicle colleagues) who have faced similar court orders. The OJR pieces concludes by saying:

“Wolf has said that his next step is request an appeal en banc — a hearing before the full panel of judges on the Ninth Circuit. But even his (attorney Martin) Garbus is not optimistic. In a September 29, 2006 post to Wolf’s blog, he lamented, “Unfortunately, the probabilities are that [Wolf] will wind up being the longest-jailed journalist in America.”

On the topic of journalism under siege, the National Television Academy recently honored three watchdog groups for “defense of freedom of the press worldwide.” They are the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, The International Press Institute (Vienna) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans Frontieres), headquartered in Paris.

Just for the heck of it, I searched out the Reporters Without Borders 2005 World Press Freedom Index which ranks “the degree of freedom journalists and news organisations enjoy in each (of 167 countries) and the efforts made by the state to respect and ensure respect for this freedom.” (That quote from the page that explains how the numbers are concocted.)

However much American journalists may whine (or whinge as the Brits say) about the press climate in the USA, be grateful you’re not trying to pound out words in North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, China, Saudi Arabia or some of the other garden spots at the bottom of the list.

But since I work in what we Yanks like to call “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” I was most interested in the press climate closer to home. Let me quote the relevant section of the 2005 report :

“Some Western democracies slipped in the Index. The United States (44th) fell more than 20 places, mainly because of the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and judicial action that is undermining the privacy of journalistic sources. Federal courts are getting increasingly bold about subpoenaing journalists and trying to force them to disclose their confidential sources. Canada (21st) also dropped several places due to decisions that weakened source confidentiality, turning some journalists into “court auxiliaries.” France (30th) also slipped, mainly because of court-ordered searches of media offices, interrogations of journalists and the introduction of new press offenses. “