First Josh Wolf now Tim Lewis

    In what appears at first glance a reprise of the situation once facing independent journalist Josh Wolf, the case of Tim Lewis:

Quash this subpoena Grand jury’s order violates Oregon shield law
The Register-Guard
July 13, 2008

It shouldn’t take a judge more than five minutes to decide to quash a misguided grand jury subpoena aimed at forcing a local videographer to surrender a tape he shot during a May 30 anti-pesticide rally in Eugene.

The grand jury’s order is an outright violation of Oregon’s media shield law. The law, one of the strongest in the nation, specifically protects anyone “employed by or engaged in any medium of communication to the public” from being compelled “by subpoena or otherwise” to testify or produce evidence from “any unpublished information obtained or prepared by the person in the course of gathering, receiving or processing information for any medium of communication to the public.”

Tim Lewis, a longtime local videographer and activist, says there’s “no way” he’ll give up the tape, which contains both released and unreleased rally footage. Lewis is on rock solid ground to resist the subpoena. The video is, as he told Register-Guard reporter Jack Moran, “the same as (a reporter’s) notes.”

Oregon’s shield law was written before the Internet completely redefined “a medium of public communication.” But there’s no question that the Picture Eugene videos Lewis shoots and posts on the YouTube Web site qualify as “information,” as defined by the shield law. And YouTube is nothing if it isn’t a whopper of a “medium of communication.” The video that has captured the interest of the grand jury has been viewed more than 8,000 times on YouTube since it was first posted on June 3 [below].

The 52-year-old Lewis is a fixture in the Lane County anarchist/activist community who for years videotaped police activities for public-access cable shows “Cascadia Alive!” and “CopWatch.” He describes himself as an independent journalist, and for purposes of the shield law, Lane County District Attorney Doug Harcleroad agrees.

Lewis was arrested in 1999 while videotaping a protest-turned-riot in downtown Eugene. Police seized his tape and charged him with disorderly conduct and interfering with an officer.

The charges were ultimately dismissed after Harcleroad conceded that “there were some problems” with prosecuting Lewis. “Mr. Lewis is a reporter, and he was reporting,” Harcleroad said at the time.

Just as Lewis was reporting on May 30 when he managed to capture some, but not all, of the events that took place during the rally in Kesey Square. Lewis said he tried to begin recording when uniformed Eugene police officers first approached Ian Van Ornum, but he didn’t realize that he needed to load a new tape into his camera. He wasn’t able to begin taping until after a Eugene officer used a Taser stun gun to subdue Van Ornum.

The potentially thorny question of whether independent online content producers qualify for protection under Oregon’s shield law isn’t very prickly in this case. The district attorney has already declared Lewis to be a reporter for the purpose of engaging in the same kind of video information gathering that is the subject of the current subpoena.

It’s important to remember the larger issue at stake in this case. If reporters are routinely compelled to provide testimony or evidence in legal proceedings, especially from their unpublished work, they will quickly be seen by the public as a de facto arm of law enforcement. Their promises of confidentiality in crucial cases of wrongdoing will be made meaningless.

Kyu Ho Youm, who holds the Jonathan Marshall First Amendment chair at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, clearly expressed the value of a reportorial privilege in a guest viewpoint he wrote for The Register-Guard last October:

“The reporter’s privilege is not necessarily for the news media as an institution. It is for everyone, in that it promotes the public’s right to know.”

See also :

Ore. videographer vows to defy subpoena for footage, First Amendment Center, (Associated Press), July 13, 2008
Activist claims he won’t give up tape, Jack Moran, The Register-Guard, July 10, 2008
Witnesses to arrest want police prosecuted, Jack Moran, The Register-Guard, July 10, 2008
Police use of Taser prompts new complaint, legal confrontation, KVAL, July 10, 2008

Breaking the Spell on YouTube // Green Scare // Barwon 13

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About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2021 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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