Freedom of the Press Coup

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By Genevieve Long for The Foreign Policy Association

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.

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