North Korea frees U.S. journalists, controversy remains

Euna Lee and Laura Ling arrived back in the United States on August 6. Arrested near the border between North Korea and China in March, the two reporters for Current TV had been held in North Korea for 140 days. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il granted them a pardon after talks with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who was acting as an unofficial envoy.

Clinton’s mission provoked some controversy. Some critics argue the trip gave the North Korean dictator the attention he craves, and John Bolton, ambassador to the United Nations under former President George Bush, said in an Agence France-Presse story published in the National Post that the move rewarded North Korea for bad behaviour and “comes dangerously close to negotiating with terrorists.” Others argue  — in this Toronto Star report among others – that Clinton’s visit might open the doors for further talks with the North Korean regime.

Meanwhile even some media outlets questioned the risk taken by the journalists and their employer. The National Post, while welcoming their release, criticized them in an editorial for “unthinkably bad judgment they displayed in their preposterous, vainglorious and astoundingly naive venture,” and suggested that former Democratic vice-president Al Gore, a part-owner of Current TV, should pay for Clinton’s trip. (In fact, The Globe and Mail reports, a friend of Clinton supplied the plane and Dow Chemical Co. provided other assistance.) The Post also reprinted an attack on the two by John Podhoretz, editor of the neoconservative American publication Commentary.

For the other side of that argument, see an editorial published by the Sacramento Bee on July 12, while Lee and Ling were imprisoned. “A free society,” the Bee argued, “relies on journalists who are willing to take risks to inform the public.”

News reports on the journalists’ return: The Globe and Mail / National Post / CBC