By Sarah Phelan
The San Francisco Board of Supes Rules Committee voted 2-1 to send a resolution opposing federal meddling in local police investigations and calling for support of California's reporter's shield law, as well as support of similar bills at the federal level that are currently working their way through Congress.
The meeting was well attended by those opposing the jailing of freelance video journalist and blogger Joshua Wolf, who was incarcerated for refusing to let a federal grand jury have unedited footage of a July 8, 2005 anti-G-8 protest.
Absent from the meeting were representatives of the San Francisco Police Officers Association and the San Francisco Police Department, an absence that Sup. Sean Elsbernd pointed out, only to have Sup. Ross Mirkarimi clarify that both groups had neen invited, but were apparently unable to send any representatives.
"What about the US Attorney's Office," asked Elsbernd, maintaing that he, "could not vote to urge that entity to do something until I've heard from them."
That said, Elsbernd insisted that the resolution noted that an officer was injured in the line of duty during the protest that Wolf filmed, and that mention be made of supporting Congressional efforts to establish reporter shield laws.
Having gotten those amendments out of Sup. Ross Mirkarimi and Tom Ammiano, Elsbernd still voted against it.
Meanwhile, Mirkarimi noted that the US Attorney's Office would be invited to the Board's next full meeting on Aug. 15 and so would have chance to give input--a fact that suggests that there's still time for one of the supes to add another "whereas" to the resolution, namely that protesters got choked and manhandled by police during the protest.
Meanwhile, with Wolf still incarcerated, Ammiano stresses that his release could be won if there was enough public outrage.
Attorney Erica Craven, who spoke hearing, told the Guardian that "the video outakes that are being sought from Mr. Wolf are absolutely privileged under the California Reporters' Shield Law. I didn't want the supervisors to lose sight of the fact that the law has been on the books since the 1930s and was incorporated, in 1980, into the California Constitution, and that the strong protections we have here in California have not led to a situation where the D.A.'s office have been unable to prosecute crimes, nor have they prevented the police from being able to investigate crimes. Instead, they have led to an appropriate balance between the public interest in freedom of speech and reporters' rights to conduct their investigations, free from government interference. They are protected under California law and there have been no adverse consequences. It's functioning well for the police, the prosecutors and the press."
As of this writing, there was no reply from Elsbernd's office, but Craven surmised that with all the concern expressed that what's really going on here is a federal investigation and an attempt to avoid California Shield Laws, Sup. Elsbernd wants to hear from them and understand why the incident is being investigated at the federal level."
As for the amendment to acknowledge that a police officer got hurt, Craven said, "the supes want to make clear that this is not about being anti-peace officers, or condoing violence against police officers, but about arguing for strong protections at federal level for journalists."
Craven also observed that since 9/11 and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, the federal goverment under Bush has become increasingly more aggressive in pursuing information from reporters. Through the Department of Homeland Security, significant funds are funneled to state and local police departments.
"It appears, " said Craven, "that the provision of Dept. of Homeland Security funds provides a hook for the federal Dept. of Justice. At least, that's how it looks. I do think it's significant that the Board of Supes speak out in favor of the enactment of a reporter's shield law at the federal level and encourage local and state authorities to respect California's Shield Law."
The Senate is considering SB 2831. The SF Board of Supes will consider the Mirkarimi-Ammiano resolution, of which Sup.Chris Daly is also a sponsor, at its Aug. 15 meeting.