2011-05-06 "Josh Wolf case renews debate on journalist rights" by Nanette Asimov from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
Guilty verdicts for practicing journalism are the stuff of authoritarian nations and now, apparently, UC Berkeley.
A campus disciplinary panel has concluded that journalism student Josh Wolf should not have been inside Wheeler Hall on Nov. 20, 2009, during an 11-hour student occupation even though, the panel acknowledged, he was filming the protest as a journalist.
His punishment? No dungeon or leg irons, but he must write an essay to help the administration establish a clear policy on the rights of student journalists.
"I'm more than happy to do anything I can to remedy the situation for future journalists," said Wolf, 28. "But it seems absurd to make it my punishment. (I'm) a consultant without pay under threat of not getting my diploma."
For UC Berkeley and its students, Wolf's guilty verdict also raises questions about First Amendment rights, whether punishing one journalist leads others to censor themselves - known as the chilling effect - and who is a journalist in the first place.
Guilty as charged -
Wolf, who will graduate Saturday with a master's degree from Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, was found guilty last week of violating three sections of the campus-wide student conduct code when he accompanied students who seized Wheeler Hall to protest tuition hikes.
"That's disappointing," said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Virginia, who has tracked Wolf's case for a year.
Legally, he said, "having a press pass doesn't give you a license to trespass where other civilians can't go. Having said that, we generally forgive minor trespassing because it's important for us to get the story. So it's an awfully fine technicality to punish someone for zealously doing his job."
Wolf said the chilling effect is real, and that other student reporters have told him they worry about being punished for covering campus events and having to spend months defending themselves, as he did.
Associate Dean Christina Gonzales declined to speak about Wolf's case. But she said the Center for Student Conduct needs a policy for working with student journalists, and that one should be in place by fall.
The problem, Gonzales said, is knowing who is a journalist.
"What's the criteria?" she asked. "If someone is a tweeter, does that mean they're a journalist?"
On Nov. 20, 2009, three months into his two-year journalism program, Wolf hung his student press pass around his neck and entered Wheeler Hall with dozens of protesters to film their building takeover from the inside. It was a decision that Journalism School Dean Neil Henry called "defensible under the highest ideals of our profession," in an April 2010 letter to the Office of Student Conduct.
Arrests filmed -
"After the police broke through the door, everyone quickly ran into the classroom where I continued filming as students were arrested one by one," Wolf told the three-member disciplinary panel.
Police arrested Wolf, too.
It wasn't the first time he was taken into custody for journalism.
Wolf served 7 1/2 months in federal prison in 2006 and 2007 after refusing to turn over unedited footage of a violent demonstration in San Francisco involving federal property. He eventually posted the footage on his site, joshwolf.net.
In that case, Wolf's stance focused public attention on whether federal law should shield journalists from having to turn over unpublished material, as California law does. That debate continues in Congress.
Similarly, the Berkeley case draws attention to the rights of campus journalists.
Wolf's essay on that topic is due June 30, and he plans to comply.
But he'll also appeal the panel's finding that he broke university rules by covering the Wheeler occupation, he said.
Given all that has happened, would he again enter the building with the protesters to cover the story from the inside?
Yes, Wolf said. "Absolutely."