The power of the press

UC Berkeley's refusal to afford Josh Wolf the freedom of reporting without retribution is a chilling proposition.

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Josh Wolf is more than just a UC Berkeley student. He has historically been an active journalist, contributing to the independent news agency Democracy Now! and having spent more time in jail than any other journalist in US history for protecting his sources.

Wolf began attending the Graduate School of Journalism in fall 2009 and recognized the Nov. 20, 2009 Wheeler Hall occupation as a reporting opportunity unlike any he would find in a classroom. He decided to chronicle the event from inside the building, but not out of solidarity with the protesters or with the intent to subvert the Code of Student Conduct. Wolf made the choice as a reporter seeking to provide a unique angle on the story.

Because of Wolf's actions, people interested in understanding the event can see it from the inside, a perspective not caught on tape by major news sources. There is nothing to show that he was actively helping protesters, and we reject the argument that his mere presence was a form of protest. If reporters from The Daily Californian had the opportunity to take footage from inside the building, they would have done the same thing as Wolf - as one of our videographers did covering a demonstration on a freeway last year.

We see no reason why Wolf, even if he were acting as a freelancer and not on behalf of an established organization, should not be afforded the same freedom from retribution. The unfettered existence of a free press is essential for keeping all institutions accountable because journalists provide the public with unique perspectives and unparalleled access . By charging Wolf, and suggesting that he compromise his journalistic integrity by intervening to aid the police, the campus is infringing on the ability of journalists to cover newsworthy events.

It's chilling that instead of encouraging student journalism, the campus that once exemplified the Free Speech Movement has chosen to subjugate the freedom of the press to restrictive conduct policies. We recognize that there cannot be a litmus test for evaluating a person's journalistic credentials, and the campus must investigate each case separately to avoid letting "acting as a journalist" become a catch-all defense that protesters can use to evade conduct charges.

But Wolf's status as a journalist is unquestionable. Wolf was The Society of Professional Journalists' 2006 Journalist of the Year, and even assistant director of the Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards Jeff Woods admitted in Wolf's April 4 conduct hearing that Wolf was "acting as a journalist."

It's inexcusable that campus officials, when confronted with all this evidence, have repeatedly insisted on prioritizing conduct retributions over the freedom of the press. They must immediately drop all charges and work to better accommodate journalists in future protests.






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