Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two jailed journalists who were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for entering North Korean territory, appear to be in an even more precarious position than Roxana Saberi, the North Dakota native whose work as a reporter in Iran landed her in jail until her recent release.
The two situations seem similar: Both Iran and North Korea have irrational, unpredictable leaders set on pursuing nuclear weapons. But tensions are actually higher with North Korea, as the U.S. works to convince China, Russia, Japan and South Korea that more muscular sanctions are needed over the North's nuclear ambitions. Indeed, Iran, whose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces a fierce fight from more moderate reformist Mir Hussein Moussavi in Friday's election, looks relatively rational compared to North Korea, whose "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il just named his son to succeed him, in what Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the conservative Cato Institute, calls "the closest thing to a communist monarchy."
Diplomacy is the key to not only defusing the nuclear stalemate, but to freeing Ling and Lee. Some have suggested the former Vice President Al Gore go as an emissary, particularly because Ling and Lee were working for Current TV, the cable channel co-founded by Gore. It's a good idea. Especially because Gore has won the Nobel Peace Prize and would be seen as an unusually high-level envoy, which might be enough to push Pyongyang to release the journalists.
Maybe there's also an official diplomatic role for Saberi, who has already acted in an unofficial capacity by releasing a statement in support of Lee and Ling. Of course, ultimately President Barack Obama and the State Department will decide who negotiates with North Korea, and would need to consider if Saberi's involvement would make Pyongyang even more paranoid.
But as regimes and rogue elements in failed states continue to consider journalists as highly valuable bargaining chips with Western governments, Saberi is in a unique position to personify the work of the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, two organizations advocating for the safety of reporters worldwide.
Intrepid in incarceration, Saberi will receive the Medill Medal for Courage from Northwestern University, where she earned a master's degree in journalism. Of course, she is just one of many journalists who have put their lives on the line in pursuit of the truth. But her prison plight, aided in part by the tireless advocacy of her Fargo family, her friends and her dogged colleagues worldwide, cut through the cultural clutter and became an international story like few before. More than any of her peers, she has been and can continue to be an articulate advocate for reporters who risk their lives in an often noble attempt to speak truth to power.