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Ling and Lee Vigils Raise Larger Questions
Last night, over fifty people gathered at Freedom Plaza in Washington D.C. to hold a candlelight vigil for imprisoned journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee. The two reporters for Current TV were in China filming a piece on sex trafficking when they inadvertently crossed the border into North Korea. They were detained by North Korean forces and have been awaiting trial for the last three months. The trial began today and there is still no word on the fate of the two journalists.
The D.C. event was one of six happening across the nation, with people from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Portland, and Birmingham all coming out to show their support. At the vigil, fellow Current Journalist Dan Beckmann shared his experiences working closely with Ling and Lee.
A letter of support written by recently freed Iranian-American journalist Roxanna Saberi was read, along with remarks from Lucie Morillon of Reporters without Borders. The group tracks freedom of the press around the globe, and runs a tally of journalists and media makers who have been abducted, killed, or imprisoned for their commitment to the truth. So far this year, 21 journalists have been killed, 143 were imprisoned (along with nine media assistants), and 70 cyber-dissidents (including bloggers) have been imprisoned.
Press Freedoms Under Attack
The purpose of a free press has been a major topic lately, with many newspapers and legacy media institutions running low on funding and slashing their coverage of local news and in-depth reporting. What Ling and Lee were doing with Current TV's Vanguard program was an attempt to reverse that trend by creating accessible journalism that covered topics like the recession and the drug war in Mexico in a way that was understandable for a wide audience.
Ling and Lee's work is invaluable to what I do as a media maker. 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. I read an article published in the Guardian newspaper a few weeks ago where the writer noted that with all the monitoring of digital sites and email addresses that investigative journalists would be wise to adopt the tactics of drug dealers to keep their sources safe.
While it seems ridiculous that reporters would need to buy prepaid phones by the pound and run messages via courier, we may be approaching a time where information will be worth as much as a kilo of cocaine and possessing this information will be just as dangerous as trying to run drugs. This is why Lee and Ling's case matters so much. We all hope and pray for their return. However, their treatment and what happens to them will also serve as a much larger symbol of what we sacrifice for freedom of the press. All the information and news bytes we take for granted come with a cost attached. The question is simple: Are we prepared to pay this cost and keep fighting?
The Vigil Continues
Though lightning and thunder were picking up force overhead, most of the attendees stayed put until the end of the program, shielding their candles from the wind and sharing umbrellas as they listened to Pastor Eom Myong-Heui speak of her experiences as a refugee from North Korea. She spoke about the terrible events that occurred in her home country and led a prayer service for Lee and Ling to be returned home safely.
Dan Beckmann shared one last note he had received from Laura Ling on the day of their apprehension. He seemed desperate to convey one last connection, one last emotion, one last thought to the audience.
At that point, the skies opened up and most of the assembled group ran for shelter. Waiting for the rain to abate, we all checked email, sent Twitter updates, and set our clocks for 2 a.m. EDT -- the time when the trial was set to begin.
After that, there was nothing we could do but wait.
Latoya Peterson is an editor of Racialicious.com blog.