Freed reporters got their wish: dialogue about N. Korea

Laura Ling and Euna Lee wanted to generate discussion about 'important issues.' By returning to the US today, they have.

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

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    Former Vice President Al Gore hugs Laura Ling. They are joined by former President Bill Clinton and Euna Lee (r.) at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., Wednesday.
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If Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were seeking to inspire dialogue about North Korea, they may have already been successful, even without presenting the story they were reporting when they were detained four months ago.

Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee were arrested on March 17 along the China-North Korea border while on assignment for Current TV. They were sentenced to 12 years of "reform through labor," but they were released after 140 days in custody, following a meeting between former President Bill Clinton and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Current TV promotes the idea that "media should be a two-way conversation," and Ling has written about her desire to use reporting to incite discussion: "We hope our work generates dialogue about the important issues affecting our lives," she wrote on her Current TV profile prior to her detention.

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It has. The mainstream media, the blogosphere, and social networking sites have exploded in recent days.

The conservative Heritage foundation focused on the damage that Mr. Clinton's visit did to international efforts to rein in North Korea's nuclear program.

"Unfortunately, there is no doubt that Kim Jong-il will see such a high level visit as a win, providing him incentive to perpetuate provocative action, including the ongoing development of missile technology and atomic weapons," Nick Zahn wrote on the foundation's blog. "The photo-ops of the trip already point to this."

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby used the two journalists' plight to highlight the appalling conditions within North Korea.

"Kim Jong-il's Stalinist dictatorship may be the most evil regime on the planet today.... In recent months it has tested a nuclear bomb, launched ballistic missiles, and renounced the armistice that ended the Korean War – its domestic human-rights abuses are beyond horrendous. While nearly all North Koreans suffer repression, the worst off by far are the hundreds of thousands trapped in Kim's monstrous slave-labor gulag."

Richard Horgan, who set up a Twitter account and blog aimed at freeing Ling and Lee said on his Twitter feed that the current situation might raise awareness about others in North Korea's prison system. "Ling-Lee release increases pressure on N.K. to free South Koreans held hostage (Hyundai Kaesong worker, four fishermen)."

Others used the news to call attention to journalists in similar situations.

Twitter user frontlineblog tweeted "Laura Ling and Euna Lee arrive home, but what about Ibrahim Jassam," with a link to a blog posting by Graham Holliday with more information about the Reuters cameraman who is "still being detained by US military in Iraq after almost a year."

WestWingReport tweeted, "Fabulous that Laura Ling, Euna Lee are free. But remember: 19 journalists have been killed this year. 125 jailed. cpj.org"

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