Reporting the news shouldn't be a crime


POSTED: Sunday, March 22, 2009

In recent weeks, three journalists have been jailed while reporting on stories concerning North Korea and Iran.

The news has stunned family and friends in the Asian American Journalists Association.

We are deeply concerned for the safety of Laura Ling, Euna Lee and Roxana Saberi, who have crossed borders to report stories that shine light into distant corners of the world. Our thoughts and prayers are with these journalists and their families.

Any charges or evidence should be made public, or these women should be set free immediately.

We urge that they be kept safe, treated fairly, allowed visits by consular officials and that their families be able to contact them.

The latest incident was Tuesday, with the seizure, reportedly by North Korean guards, of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for the cable and online news site Current TV. The two were believed to be videotaping along the North Korean-Chinese border, according to news reports. It's unclear whether they had crossed on to the North Korean side of the border from China.

Ling, a Chinese-American, and Lee, a Korean-American, were reporting on the plight of North Korean refugees crossing the Tumen River to China.

The first instance involves Saberi, a 31-year-old freelance journalist from Fargo, N.D., who has been held in Iran without formally announced charges since January. An American of Japanese and Iranian descent, Saberi has reported for National Public Radio, the BBC and ABC News. Iranian authorities had indicated they would release her soon, but so far have not done so.

The stories American journalists report from abroad are crucial to understanding U.S. foreign policy and what it means to be a citizen of the world. With many newsrooms cutting their foreign coverage, the public is more reliant than ever on the work of freelance and Web journalists willing to risk their personal safety so we may know more.

These journalists go abroad because of their commitment to tell stories that would otherwise go untold. With their cultural upbringing, these three Asian-American women were capable of bringing more to their stories - a nuanced perspective of issues affecting Americans, Koreans and Iranians.

Saberi herself wrote, “;I might never have become interested in working as a foreign correspondent had my mother not made the effort years earlier to teach my brother and me Japanese, to take us to Japan on our summer vacations, and to play hostess in Fargo to our visiting Japanese relatives. These experiences, combined with my exposure to Iranian culture through my father, helped spark my interest in learning more about the world beyond America's borders.”;

That spark lit the way for the possibility of mutual understanding, not just between Saberi and the world beyond, but between the public who would eventually hear her stories and the Iranians whose stories she brought to life.

If journalists are detained solely for reporting, they should be released immediately. It is not and should not be a crime to be a journalist.

Sharon Pian Chan is the national president of the Asian American Journalists Association, a nonprofit professional and educational organization with more than 2,000 members.