On March 17, American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling were arrested for allegedly crossing the border from China into North Korea while reporting for Al Gore’s user-generated news organization Current TV. In doing so, they became unwitting players in Kim Jong-Il’s ongoing political theatrics, aimed at the U.S. in particular. This drama came to a head today when they were sentenced to 12 years hard labor by North Korea’s highest court for committing “grave crimes” against the country.
For the past month and a half, Gore and Current TV have been mum on the situation, causing SF Gate blogger Phil Bronstein to question what’s going on with our former Vice President:
“Where is Mr. Gore, Nobel winner and formerly the second most powerful person in the world in all this? How about anything from SF-based Current TV, say maybe even just a public expression of concern? At the moment I wrote this, the big story on their web site is, ‘Top 10 Sexting Acronyms For Adults.’” (as of this writing, one of the top stories is “James Cameron Joins Heavy Metal” but alas, no mention of Lee and Ling)
One hopes that Gore’s silence has been out of concern for his reporters’ safety, given the situation’s potential volatility. Indeed, Fox News reports that the State Department “did not rule out” the possibility of Gore’s involvement in negotiations but refused to comment further.
Most journalists and North Korea watchers believe that Lee and Ling will eventually be released. Jason Zengerle over at The New Republic echoes the prevailing sentiment that Pyongyang will use the journalists as a bargaining chip for bilateral talks with the U.S.: “American diplomats will jump through whatever hoops the North Koreans set up for them; and that will be that.” And, Yonhap News predicts that Pyongyang will try to get the U.S. and UN to soften any political and financial sanctions in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear missile tests.
Regardless of the outcome, both Bronstein and LaToya Peterson at Racialicious view this as a defining moment for Current TV’s user-generated, “democratic” mode of journalism.
Bronstein writes: “Is this what happens when information becomes more democratic? No one’s willing to step up? If you work for a viewer-supplied TV cable network, does that mean no one has your back? This does not help the argument that the value of large news organizations is dwindling to nothing in favor of small entrepreneurs. There’s no encouragement for 2.0 reporting when its practitioners can disappear into the gulag with no one to fight for them.”
Peterson writes: “As we enter a world where corporate interests often trump stories that impact every day people, Current TV’s work developing user generated content and training citizens to become journalists is rapidly emerging as a model to follow to keep citizens engaged in their communities.
But, it is like the old truism: Nothing in life comes for free. In the process of fighting for truth, we have to dig deeper and go to places we never thought we’d go, often at the risk of running afoul of authorities who would rather this information was not released.”