Bloggers, journalists demand freedom for jailed vlogger

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Bloggers, journalists and free-speech advocates
in the US hope to press the state of California to free videoblogger Josh Wolf. Wolf was imprisoned last week for failing to comply with a federal grand jury's subpoena requiring him to turn over unpublished footage of a protest he taped in July, 2005.

Wolf's case comes on the heels of a successful effort by bloggers around the world to press for the release of writer-filmaker Hao Wu, who was held by the Chinese government without charges for five months.

It is believed that Wu was jailed because Chinese government officials wanted access to his footage and notes for a documentary about China's underground Christian churches. In an article for New American Media, writer Eugenia Chen
noted that more than 1,000 websites carried Wu's story and picture within weeks of his Feb. 22 arrest, calling his July 11 release, "a testament to the power of the blogging community to generate information and gather support."

Wolf's defenders argue that he is covered by California's shield law, and that the government's action in this case is a violation of the First Amendment. As the San Francisco Chronicle put it:

"[T]he really ominous element of the government's argument is the notion that a journalist can be compelled to turn over raw material -- be it notes or video outtakes -- at the government's whim. If that standard can apply to Josh Wolf, it can be used against CNN, NBC, Fox News or any independent journalist who is conducting an investigation or trying to record a chaotic event. Journalists are not agents of the government.

"This case comes at a particularly precarious time for the First Amendment. The Bush administration has become increasingly aggressive about pursuing and prosecuting leaks -- including The Chronicle's publication of grand jury testimony about an investigation into performance-enhancing drugs at the highest level of sports. On Tuesday, a federal court cleared the way for prosecutors to inspect the telephone records of two New York Times reporters in an effort to identify their confidential sources."

Videoblogger Gena Haskins put it more succinctly:

"If you are an American, you know that this is wrong. If you are not an American I'm telling you this is not our way. You can't force someone to give up his property, especially under these conditions."

You can view Wolf's videoblog appeal. His supporters have also created a wiki with updated information about his case. His parents are maintaining Wolf's blog for now.

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