By Kristin Longley
Michigan State University
Continuing its tradition of support for First Amendment rights, SPJ
on Wednesday awarded a jailed independent journalist a $30,000 grant
— the largest ever given by SPJ.
"We have to make a stand someplace as the government attempts over
and over to change the role of journalists as independent observers
to arms of law enforcement," said SPJ President Dave Carlson,
sporting a "Free Josh" button. "If we allow this to happen the public
will be hurt, our democracy will be hurt because people will be less
inclined to cooperate with reporters.
"We will all end up less informed and less able to practice self-
SPJ's Legal Defense Fund, which gave Wolf $1,000 earlier this year,
is an account that can provide journalists with legal or direct
Wolf's grant is more than double the next highest amount given. In
2001, SPJ awarded a $12,500 grant to Vanessa Leggett, a freelance
author jailed for refusing to give her notes to a federal grand jury
investigating a murder.
"It's a great statement that we as journalists are not going to stand
for other journalists being jailed for doing their jobs," said Dave
Aeikens, SPJ's Legal Defense Fund chairman. "It sends a strong
message, and we want it to be heard loud and clear."
Aeikens said Wolf's situation brings to light a larger issue: the
need for a federal shield law. With other court cases involving
journalists that have the potential to end up like Wolf's, Aeikens
said a law that limits the circumstances in which journalists are
compelled to relinquish sources, unedited footage or notes is necessary.
"It's absolutely unacceptable for our government to imprison
journalists for information," Aeikens said. "That's not our role."
Wolf shot footage of a G8 protest in San Francisco last summer.
During the protest, a police car was vandalized and a police
officer's skull fractured.
The federal government has subpoenaed Wolf's footage, but he has
refused to turn it over. He was found in contempt of court Aug. 1 and
sent to a federal prison in Dublin, Calif., where he could remain
until July, when the grand jury term expires.
Wolf's mother, Elizabeth Wolf-Spada, said in an e-mail that she's
grateful for the grant.
"Now we can concentrate any other money on his expenses in jail,
rent, etc." she wrote, adding that any extra money could be donated
to other journalists' cases.
On Wolf's Web site, www.joshwolf.net, she thanks "all the generous
and concerned people" who have supported Wolf's cause.
"He is doing well and maintaining a positive spirit," she wrote
Tuesday. "He is becoming very concerned about the injustice he sees
in the justice system."