Thursday, June 11, 2009

the bigger picture

My plan for this week’s column was a preview of the Waterfront Film Festival which I’ll be attending this coming weekend. However, I will be writing a review of the festival for next week and in the mean time – I would encourage anyone with time to kill this weekend to make the drive up to Saugatuck, Mi. to take in a movie or two.

These are independent films with big names, including Robin Williams, Jeff Daniels and Daryl Hannah and the event brings in thousands of visitors to southwest Michigan each year. Check it all out at and look for a review next week.

As a journalist, covering events like the film festival are fun. But when the day is done and we sit up into the wee morning hours reading articles and books and watching newscasts to try and learn as much as we can about what goes on in our world, the fun is just a part of the bigger picture.

A bigger picture of true point of journalism – to be a voice. Whether to the children on our inner city streets, the shop workers in our factories, the teachers, the parents, the doctors or the businessmen and women. Here, next door, abroad. I’m pushing the column on movies to address a far more serious subject – that of the sentencing of two American journalists to 12 years of “reform by labor” in a North Korean labor camp.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee were handed those sentences by an alleged North Korean court after they were apprehended by North Korean soldiers nearly three months ago, as they were working for the San Francisco news outlet Current TV, reportedly on a story about North Korean defectors.

Korean officials say the two young women committed a “grave” crime against the country. Just what they did, however, nobody knows. The sentencing sent shock waves through the news media, put a harsh spotlight on the Obama administration and was an obvious taunt from a country with no plans to live in peaceful coexistence with anyone.

Since the news of Ling and Lee’s conviction there has been an endless supply of reporting, analysis and comment on the situation – painfully and obviously now one that will see these two young Americans as pawns in what is turning out to be a nuclear game of "mine's bigger than yours".

It was weeks prior – even as the two reporters awaited their “trial” – that North Korea turned its back to those nations who wish to live under ideals of peace, humanity, freedom and liberty and repeatedly conduced missile tests and furthered their nuclear aspirations. Still, the current presidential administration was quiet. North Korea acted and they hesitated.

There’s no denying the delicacy it takes to navigate a country in a world filled with countries. There’s no denying the fragility of what is at stake – human life. America can not simply turn its nuclear weapons North Korea’s way threaten an offensive of Sylvester Stallone, Rambo-like proportions. There are consequences and nuclear arsenals to contend with. However, while this situation elevated – the perception doled out by the Obama administration has been: Um…maybe we should put those guys back on the terror list.

Um…really? Washington now has to admit they’ve been checked in North Korea’s chess game…and getting Lee and Ling out of the labor camps they are purportedly being sent to, where prisoners are said to have to try and trap rats for food, transport human waste and live with torture, will not be an easy task. Because obviously – North Korea now has an upper hand.

What the administration must do is chalk up their blatant failure to perceive North Korea for what it is – a living, breathing terrorist entity – and actually do something. It seems almost as if we are dangerously close to adopting a “if I don't look at it, it's not really there” philosophy. There should be more tough talk coming from our nation's capital and less desire play nice with bullies.

The Middle East is a territory of religious ideology. North Korea is not so narrowed. North Korea’s ideology is domination.

In reading the analysis and the articles that are addressing this issue, what struck me beyond the country’s reluctance to be a strong arm when a strong arm is needed – was the reactions of readers to these journalists who “should have known better” than to break another country’s rules. Just because we have freedom of press here, they say, doesn’t mean we should be so daring as to assume those liberties elsewhere.

As a journalist, I agree. And I believe we recognize the dangers. But it is not known if Lee and Ling were actually in North Korea at the time of their capture. Also not known – the circumstances of their “trial” which was held in secret. It is true that the freedom of the press provided for us so valuably in our constitution does not transcend our borders. But true journalism does not live in the constitution.

True journalism isn’t just trying to “get the story” as if they were trolling for the picture of the next celebrity baby. True journalism is to record our world. To give a voice to the people and to report on the actions of those who govern those people. To tell the stories of the goings on in our worlds.

When the world’s journalists are taken, locked up and punished for reporting the truth – we must ask ourselves what that says for the countries behind such acts. Right now, countless journalists are being held in prisons across the world for doing nothing more than what you and I take as a right and a freedom every day.

To those countries, North Korea included, every journalist muted results in an army’s worth of reporters whose voices will only gain in strength and whose missions will continue to expose the atrocities, abuses and infringements on not just a western philosophy, not just an ideology…but the bigger picture. Humanity.

Jessica Sieff is a reporter for The Niles Daily Star. Email her at, or visit her on Twitter @jessicasieff

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