(HOST) This morning, commentator Barrie Dunsmore looks at two stories in the news on the Fourth of July that illustrate the significance of that famous two hundred-thirty year-old American declaration of freedom.
(DUNSMORE) Military experts have not concluded their analysis of the July 4th North Korean missile tests. But it seems the long range missile that might reach the U.S. West coast fizzled in less than a minute. However, political analysts seem to think that the decision of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il to launch his missiles on America’s National holiday was a deliberate act of defiance.
If so, he is playing with fire. Recently, two senior Pentagon officials of the Clinton administration, including former Defense Secretary William Perry, argued that this country should bomb North Korea’s nuclear facilities before they become a serious military threat. Whatever the dangers or the merits of that argument, the North Korean strongman has to consider that as a very possible American option. At a minimum, such an attack would cause the deaths of many North Koreans. But Kim Jong Il doesn’t care about his people. He doesn’t have to worry about North Korean public opinion or newspapers questioning his judgment. He is an unaccountable ruler, and his people have no civil liberties protections. Such rulers are dangerous.
Another story that turned up on the Fourth, although it was given scant attention, concerned a proposed new law that would have broad implications for the news media in China. The law is now under consideration by the Communist Party legislature. It threatens financial penalties for the news media for reporting “sudden incidents” without first obtaining official permission. Included among those “sudden incidents” would be outbreaks of disease, natural disasters and social disturbances, which presumably would include riots or strikes or almost anything else the government wishes to keep secret. The fines are to apply to foreign as well as the domestic Chinese news media. Of course, as in North Korea, there are no First Amendment protections in China either.
But it’s not difficult to imagine that, in some circles in this country, something like that Chinese law might look quite attractive. After all, just think how less devastating hurricane Katrina would have been if news organizations had not reported it; or how successful the war on terror would be if the news media would not reveal apparent violations of the law in the way it is being waged.
Such skewed reasoning leads to overheated charges, openly encouraged by the White House, that newspapers like the New York Times have committed treason by publishing state secrets. Some Republicans in Congress have even demanded that editors and reporters should be charged under the Espionage Act of 1917 and thrown in jail.
That’s how President Woodrow Wilson dealt with his critics during World War I. But First Amendment case law concerning the freedoms of speech and the press has come a long way since then – to America’s benefit. For obvious reasons, the country that was founded upon these most basic freedoms ought not to be considering movement toward the Chinese and North Korean models.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.