The story of Josh Wolf, who this week became the first known blogger to be jailed for refusing to hand over source materials to federal officials, has ignited passionate online discussions about free speech and the roles and rights of citizen journalists and their governing officials.
We happened to have met Wolf, who in addition to being a San Francisco-based freelance journalist and a filmmaker, is also a leader in the growing video blogging movement, which he sees as a "media revolution" that gives people "a viable alternative to commercial TV."
He's now known outside the vlogging world as the 24-year-old in federal prison for refusing to turn over video he took at an anticapitalist protest here last summer, and for refusing to testify before a grand jury looking into accusations that crimes were committed at the protest.
His case, much like the one Apple Computer filed against an Apple enthusiast site that leaked information about an unreleased product, has got people debating the definition of a journalist. But they're also joining the growing "Free Josh Wolf!" rallying cry, heralding him for his principles and encouraging donations to his legal fund.
Blog community response:
"The government has scary powers and is using them. Interesting to watch this case evolve and see how Josh is using his blog to get word out to his friends. Josh, on his blog, writes that he is planning to appeal this case all the way. That??ll cost $10,000 to $15,000 in legal fees. Whew."
"What is to stop any witness to a crime from blogging and claiming to be a journalist, cutting off prosecutors from evidence needed to try criminals? Yes, what would stop Tony Soprano from blogging to claim the shield: 'I'm what you call a citizen journalist. You godda problem wid dat?'...But then on the other, other hand, if all journalists and all citizens who may witness news and thus perform acts of journalism now fear subpoena, contempt, and prison, what chill will this put on news reporting? The price of knowing becomes high. So in this case, instead of Tony Soprano becoming a blogger, we call become Tony Sopranos: hearing, seeing, and speaking no evil...Blogging was a helluva lot easier when all we wrote about was our cats."
--Jeff Jarvis on comment is free...
"For us, it's important to support journalists or anyone with a camera being harassed by the government to turn over recordings of public events that each of us has every right to record. We don't want the government, local or federal, to make it a habit of asking for anything we happen to record. Then we each might question: 'Do I want to record this and be harassed later on?' This is especially true during controversial political events."
--Peter Van Dijck's Guide to Ease
"I just donated $100 to Josh's legal defense fund and I would encourage anyone reading this to give what they can. Josh is one of the nicest and most principled people I know. Not many people will go all the way to the mat on principle. Josh is a rare exception. Unfortunately, we need more rate exceptions as our freedoms slowly erode. "