A Dark Day for Press Freedom
by Julian Davis‚ Feb. 06‚ 2007
Unless released from ‘coercive confinement’ by the end of the day, Josh Wolf will become the longest incarcerated journalist for contempt in United States history. Wolf is in prison for refusing to provide testimony and unpublished video footage to a federal grand jury investigating incidents that may have occurred at a 2005 political protest at which he was filming. Just why a federal grand jury was convened to investigate a broken taillight on an SFPD cruiser has never been fully illuminated. Many have characterized the investigation as a fishing expedition by an Administration determined to identify and threaten voices of dissent. What is evident is that despite protections supposedly afforded in the United States and California constitutions, protections designed to safeguard individual and journalistic rights, Josh Wolf finds himself the victim of an intrusive federal investigation.
The 24-year-old independent journalist has shown no signs of wavering in his refusal to comply with the federal grand jury that subpoenaed him one year ago. Wolf has refused on journalistic principle to comply and for his brave stand Americans owe Josh Wolf a great debt of gratitude. But he is only doing what any other self-respecting journalist would do and ultimately his case is not only about individual rights or the rights of journalists, but about the right and need of the public in a free society to be informed.
Investigative journalism and the free flow of information are no less important to the functioning of a healthy democracy than fair elections or the separation of powers. If journalists are unable to protect their sources of information, there can simply be no guarantee of press freedom. Who would share sensitive information with a journalist if that journalist could at anytime unwillingly become a tool of a law enforcement investigation and be forced to divulge confidential communications?
Without protections for journalists, without confidentiality, without privileged communication, the citizenry becomes less informed, and without information, the citizenry becomes powerless. There is a reason freedom of the press is enshrined in the United States constitution. The founders of this country and others have recognized the importance of press freedom to democracy. There is a statement from Thomas Jefferson that Josh Wolf likes to quote. Jefferson said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” If only the US prosecutor and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales were aware that in their overzealous pursuit of national security they are compromising the very values upon which this country was founded. We are living in an era when freedoms are disappearing in the very name of freedom.
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