Day-to-day, journalism probably doesn’t rank very high amongst the world’s most dangerous careers. Probably not even in the top ten. And as a communication major with a concentration in journalism, being abducted in a foreign country was one of the last images that ever crossed my mind. In the classroom, we are taught to do whatever it takes to get the story; to nag and harass and annoy to get the information that we want and need to make a good story. For us right now, as students, this generally means getting in the face of Public Safety or tracking down President Wolk. For two American journalists, though, it meant being kidnapped on the boarder of North Korea.
March 20, 2009, ABC news was able to confirm that American reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee were “arrested” and detained by the North Korean army. The duo was shooting film in China on the North Korean boarder for a story on North Koreans who were fleeing the Communist nation. Because the journalists were in China at the time they were “arrested”, the U.S. called it a kidnapping and to say that their detention conditions were sub-par would be an understatement. Reportedly, Ling and Lee dined on rice peppered with rocks, were isolated from one another, and told the New York Daily News that they lived in constant fear of being sent to one of North Korea’s many hard-labor gulags.
Sadly, this is not the first time a journalist has been abducted whether the reason behind that abduction is to improve or sour relations between countries, or simply prevent information from being leaked to the public.
Seven years ago, the highly publicized kidnapping of Daniel Pearl was the hot topic of abduction discussion. The American journalist was captured in Pakistan while working on a story about Islamic extremist groups. In January of 2002, Pearl got up close and personal with another kind of extremist group. The Pakistani government demanded of the U.S. the release of Pakistani prisoners from Afghanistan in return for Pearl’s life. A month later, Pearl was killed after an escape attempt- just two months before his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child.
The Ling/Lee story, however, is one of the few with a happy ending. An unlikely hero, former U.S. president, Bill Clinton spent nearly 20 hours meeting with the North Korean government, including the nation’s leader, Kim Jong Il, negotiating the reporters’ freedoms. His efforts were rewarded and the pair was released and returned to the United States early in August after five months in captivity.
These are just two of the many tragedies that occur when journalist trying to get the story, become the story. Journalism is one of the most thankless jobs- and I’m not just saying that because I’m “one of them”; hours of interviews, writing, fact checking, and with every story, a level of risk. But it is a risk that we are willing to take to provide our readers with the information that they want to know and need to know.