Reporter Crossing Boarders (Literally)

Can journalists go too far? In the case of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, crossing into North Korea was too far.

On March 17, 2009, Ling, a Chinese-American, and Lee, a Korean-American, were detained when they accidentally entered North Korea. The two journalists, who work for Current TV in San Francisco, were originally doing research on the Chinese side of the border for a story on North Korean refugees who fled to China.

The timing of these arrests couldn’t have come at a worse time. “Their indictment comes amid heightening tension between Pyongyang and Washington over a North Korean plan to launch a rocket by Wednesday next week,” according to The New York Times.  

Later charged with entering the country illegally, Ling and Lee were sentenced to twelve years in a labor camp. Yet almost five months later, both journalists were set free after former President Bill Clinton went to North Korea to vie for their freedom.

“We didn’t spend more than a minute on North Korean soil before turning back,” Ling and Lee said, according to another Times article. “But it is a minute we deeply regret.”

Now back safe with their families for over a year, both journalists had endured what is almost definitely, some of the worst memories of their lives. Although they were in search of a story, they instead ended up as the story. So I will ask again: can journalists go too far? Although it was only for an instant, Laura Ling and Euna Lee went too far to the wrong side. Were these reporters being brave? Or was it foolishness that ended up placing them in a Communist jail?

These reporters crossed a border that happened to be a bigger deal than it originally seemed. And these won’t be the last reporters that will make this same mistake, just to get a story. I agree that great journalism comes from the journalists that never quit and do whatever it takes to get a story, but some reporters go too far just for a story.

Where do the boarders come in? In our country, our journalists are free to report about whatever, but that doesn’t stand true in every country. I think journalists have to know boundaries because it can cause a lot of trouble, and like the story above, it can put our country at risk. I’m all for getting the story and exceeding limits, but in the case of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, their carelessness put them at great danger. As a journalist, you have to be careful to not go too far and cross a border. Literally.

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