MADISON, Wisconsin - January 24 - The Center for Media and Democracy announces the launch of Defend The Press, a new coalition of journalists, public interest groups, academics and citizen activists. Defend The Press is asking the US Army to drop its subpoena of Sarah Olson, an independent print and radio journalist based in Oakland, California, in the court martial of Iraq war resister Lieutenant Ehren Watada. Olson interviewed Watada in May 2006, and in June he announced he would not go to war in Iraq, challenging its legality. Watada's Army court martial begins February 5, 2007, at Fort Lewis, Washington.
Sarah Olson has been served with a subpoena from the President of the United States requiring her to be a prosecution witness against Lieutenant Watada. The subpoena states "failure to appear may result in your being taken into custody and brought before the court martial." Olson risks felony charges, jail and a fine if she fails to cooperate.
Sarah Olson recently wrote in an editorial column, "I stand firmly by a conviction I share with many: a member of the press should never be placed in the position of aiding a government prosecution of political speech. This goes against the grain of even the most basic understanding of the First Amendmentís free press guarantees and the expectation of a democracy that relies on a free flow of information and perspectives without fear of censure or retribution."
Defend The Press believes journalists should not be forced to participate in government prosecutions ó especially prosecutions seeking to criminalize political speech. Defend The Press supports Sarah Olson and journalists like her; independent journalists especially need stronger protection of their rights in the age of the Internet.
Among the dozens of noted journalists and authors participating in Defend The Press are Noam Chomsky, Phil Donahue, Daniel Ellsberg, Barbara Ehrenreich, Diane Farsetta, Laura Flanders, Robert McChesney, Greg Palast, Sheldon Rampton and Howard Zinn.
Defend The Press was founded by the non-profit Center for Media and Democracy of Madison, Wisconsin, and by Free Press Working Group of Oakland, California, in the belief that the press cannot function if it is used by the government to prosecute political speech. Turning reporters into the investigative arm of the government subverts press freedoms, and chills dissenting speech in the United States.