The International Federation of Journalists today called for the immediate release of a Seattle freelance journalist sent to jail for contempt of court by a judge who claims he is not a legitimate investigative reporter because he edits and publishes his own work.
Veteran journalist Paul Trummel, a member of the National Writers Union, which is affiliated to the IFJ, was imprisoned in February for breaching an injunction forbidding him to write about a residence where he lived for two years and about which he has complained in his own newsletter and web-site.
"The judge has advanced the dangerous argument that this freelance has no professional status because he edits and publishes his own work," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "If this argument is upheld it is a threat to reporters everywhere, particularly those who live in the real world of journalism, which is dominated by self-starters and independent professionals."
The IFJ is also concerned by reports that Trummel, who is 69, has been placed in solitary confinement. He is said to have been sent to solitary on Thursday last week to deny him access to the prison telephone. "This victimisation has gone on for long enough. Paul should be released immediately," says the IFJ.
Trummel is a former London-based journalist who is semi-retired. His dispute with residents and management of the residence in which he lived has led to a long-running legal battle over his newsletters and web-site writings about his complaints.
The IFJ supports the National Writers Union, which is challenging the basis on which James Doherty, a Superior Court Judge, sent Trummel to jail. "Journalists' unions in the US and elsewhere are right to deplore any judgement that denies writers the status of journalists simply because they publish their own work," says the IFJ. "Freelance reporters must have the same professional rights as those employed by media outlets."