Protection for journalists still at risk

Every journalism student I went to school with was taught the story of Josh Wolf. The blogger served a year of jail time for not revealing sources and raw video of burning police cars during a Mission District protest in 2005.

According to a discussion panel held last week, today’s journalists — some seven years later — are still just as vulnerable to the same kind of harassment and coercion.

First Amendment Project attorney Jim Wheaton addressed an audience at a Pacific Media Workers Guild panel last Tuesday, which screened the film “Activist Blogger: The Josh Wolf Story.” The event included a panel discussion with Wheaton, filmmaker Donna Lee and Wolf himself.

Lee’s film focuses mostly on what constitutes a journalist, though it is also receiving attention from journalism and law schools where it is creating discussions of “constitutional protections and free speech issues.”

One of the panel’s main focuses was on the lack of a federal shield law, which leaves journalists open “to subpoena, searches and seizures.”

What does this mean for current and future journalists?

Some argue that Wolf, as a blogger not working for a professionally-recognized news organization, is not an actual journalist. This, though, ignores a free society’s need for unlicensed, unregulated media of all shapes and sizes.

Also, with so many established news writers taking on freelance jobs to scrape by in today’s economy, such a narrow definition could put journalists in hot water for side work.

After meeting Wolf during his run for mayor of San Francisco in 2007, Lee began filming “Activist Blogger” as a class project at Laney College. She shot the film in three weeks, while concurrently directing, producing and editing another film called “Building It Green: An Urban Partnership.”