Foreign Policy Blogs

Freedom of the Press Coup

The past couple of days, there has been a frenzy of media coverage about the two jailed American journalists who were freed from North Korea. And rightly so. Rarely has such a dramatic set of circumstances come into play at the same time, then ended in a moral, political, and humanitarian coup. Yet the biggest victory of all could be what was won in the name of the free press.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s swift rescue of the jailed journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, carried the same hallmark style he’s always been known for. A smooth, cool statesman, who’s able to talk irrational dictators into releasing two American prisoners. According to a report from CNN, Clinton had a meeting with North Korean President Kim Jong Il, followed by a dinner that was twice as long. An interesting connection is that Clinton’s former vice president, Al Gore, is the founder of Current.TV, the media that Lee and Ling work for. They were doing a story about the trafficking of women along the Chinese-North Korean border early this year when they were arrested. In June, they were sentenced to 12 years in prison for crossing the border into North Korea.

Lee and Ling being set free goes far beyond a coup for American foreign policy. It goes right to the core of what is best about the American institute of the free press. It’s a demonstrable example of why in the past the press was called the “Fourth Estate”—a group other than the usual powers. American democracy thrives on the press being allowed to operate openly and freely and disseminate information. But support from high-profile individuals and the government are key in keeping the press secure for present and future generations.

What Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and all those who worked hard behind the scenes to secure Lee and Ling’s release did was more than rescue two Americans who were basically being held captive. They made a stand for the right of journalists to do their jobs. Sometimes that means going to dangerous locales. Sometimes it means getting so close to the story that personal safety is risked. But that is why there are journalists. That is whey they are called “truth tellers”. Not everyone can be on the scene themselves, and journalists are needed to go there–wherever that might be–and bring the story back.

One can only hope that now that Euna Lee and Laura Ling are back on U.S. soil, they will use their skills as journalists to tell the story of what really happened to them in North Korea.

 

Author

Genevieve Belmaker

Genevieve Belmaker is a freelance journalist and contributing editor with The Epoch Times (www.theepochtimes.com). She also contributes to Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists and Poynter.org. Her blog on journalism is http://artofreportage.com.

Genevieve has traveled throughout the U.S., Asia, Central America, Israel and the West Bank for reporting assignments, including major investigative reports on the recovery of New Orleans, the encroaching presence of China in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the dangerous import of melamine-contaminated milk into the U.S. and settlement outposts in the West Bank. She regularly reports on issues related to journalism, and the work of journalists.

She holds a BA from the University of Southern California in International Relations, and has been a member of several prominent national and international professional media organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the International Women’s Media Foundation, the New York Press Club, and the Newswomen’s Club of New York. She lives in Jerusalem, Israel with her husband and son.

Areas of Focus:
New Media; Journalism; Culture and Society

Great Decisions Discussion group