Accessibility links

Western Press Review: From Kim's Moscow Visit To Press Freedom In The U.S.

  • Don Hill

Prague, 6 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Our survey of Western press opinion today finds a range of topics without particular focus.


"The Irish Times" examines in an editorial a joint declaration on 4 August by Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Moscow. The newspaper says the interaction may be more benign than is obvious. It says: "At first sight, the declaration [may seem essentially] a direct rebuff to [U.S.] President George Bush's controversial ballistic missile defense program." The editorial says, the Moscow declaration "[makes] the point -- presumably for Mr. Bush's attention -- that North Korea's missile program was designed for peaceful purposes."

The newspaper says the two leaders declared that the "missile program [does] not threaten countries that recognize North Korea's sovereignty." And, it notes, the declaration was "stronger on rhetoric than on firm commitments in the military sphere."

The newspaper concludes: "Mr. Putin's statements on missile defense were much more hard-line than those made after his meeting with Mr. Bush at Genoa. He may, nonetheless, be in the process of bringing North Korea out of its isolation and opening it to the moderating influence of the international community."


"The Washington Post" and "The Boston Globe" discuss separate free press issues. A "Post" editorial considers whether a person gathering data for a book deserves the same informal protection traditionally offered in the United States to journalists.

Under the headline "Who Defines a Journalist?" the editorial says that a would-be author named Vanessa Leggett is being held in jail in Houston in the southwestern U.S. state of Texas by federal authorities for refusing to turn over her notes for a book she is writing on a local murder case.

The newspaper says: "Ms. Leggett decided she could turn over no more material without compromising her sources. The U.S. attorney, in response, sought a contempt order, and she could be in jail for the next 18 months if she doesn't capitulate."

The editorial says that the federal Justice Department is unwilling to extend to Leggett the same protections it ordinarily gives to journalists because she hasn't published anything yet. The editorial says, however, "You don't in this country need a license to practice journalism, and the boundaries of the profession are porous." It says: "Freelancers have no institutional affiliations, but that doesn't mean they aren't journalists. Does the government get to decide which of them count?"

"The Washington Post" says that if Leggett were gathering information with the intention of making news available to the public on a matter of controversy, she was functioning as a journalist.

It concludes, "We trust the Justice Department wouldn't be going after a major news organization under similar circumstances; it should not be locking up Vanessa Leggett, either."


"The Boston Globe's" free press case involves efforts by the U.S. Defense Department to silence an academic physicist who has been disseminating embarrassing military data already publicly available.

The staff-written commentary says: "When Chinese Communist authorities arrest a scholar for transmitting written materials already available to the public, their manipulation of government secrecy to squelch free inquiry appears blatant to Americans. The Pentagon's (that is, the U.S. Defense Department's) recent effort to intimidate Ted Postol, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a critic of current missile defense technology, should be no less obvious to Americans who value a free marketplace of ideas."

The commentary continues: "As if trying to emulate the regime in Beijing, Defense Department investigators demanded that MIT make Postol stop transmitting documents from a defense contractor on missile defense testing. The documents have been accessible to the public since last spring, when the department approved them for dissemination. Postol's analysis of the documents had shown that the mid-course missile defense system being tested by the Pentagon cannot discriminate between a live warhead and the simplest balloon decoys."

It says: "Only after Postol sent a letter to the White House a year ago describing his findings and calling the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization's deletions of inconvenient data an 'elaborate hoax' did the Pentagon classify as secret parts of the document he had analyzed."

The "Globe" commentary says: "If ever there was a matter that called out for honest scientific inquiry and public debate, it is the Defense Department's heedless pursuit of funds for missile defense -- whether the technology for it exists or not. Postol has been calling for an evaluation of the system and its tests by a panel of independent scientists. It is a call that should be heeded."


The "International Herald Tribune" carries a commentary by Bruce A. Elleman and Sarah C. M. Paine indicating the dangers they say lurk in recent Chinese-Russian treaties. They say that some of the most important elements of the two countries' new security alliance are disguised.

The writers, associate professors at the U.S. Naval War College, say: "These elements give China a new position of authority in Mongolia and throughout Eurasia. They also help an embattled Russia retain what is left of its far-flung empire."

The commentary says that one Sino-Russian agreement pledges each country to avoid assisting ethnic minorities in the other's territories. It says this amounts to tacit acceptance by China of Russia's assault on Chechnya and by Russia of China's suppression of unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang. It says a second treaty is economic and virtually guarantees that China will become not only Mongolia's most important trading partner, but also will remain its largest direct foreign investor, paving the way for gradual Chinese reassimilation of Mongolia.

The commentary goes on: "The Chinese-Russian treaty [also] is a nonaggression pact whereby both parties agree to keep the peace on their shared frontier so that they can focus their attentions elsewhere."

It says that there are reports that countries as diverse as Mongolia and Iran soon may become members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, ostensibly an Asian economic body but also a forum for opposition to U.S. initiatives like the missile defense shield.

The commentators write: "The recent Chinese-Russian agreement may allow Beijing to develop the organization into a Eurasian security alliance under China's auspices."


German commentator Daniel Broessler writes in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" that North Korea's Kim appeared in Moscow over the weekend as an apparition. Broessler comments: "The existing colorful mosaic of Russia's foreign policy has been somewhat enriched by this visit. It reflects the attitude of a regime enjoying even less trust than the Russians."

Broessler writes: "Putin has found it necessary to discover North Korea once more. He is cultivating a foreign policy in all directions in a longing for past power and glory."

The writer says: "Russia wants to mediate between the two Koreas, not because it is a great power. Russia wants to mediate because it wants to be a great power. Whoever promises just a little prestige, is welcome even though he be a North Korean Stalinist."


"Los Angeles Times" staff writer David Holley takes up the question in a news analysis of premature death from smoking as an "economic good" in the Czech Republic. He writes: "Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman, a heavy smoker, once defended his habit by arguing that it helped his country's finances because smokers pay taxes and die younger before they draw too much in pensions and health benefits."

Holley writes: "It somehow was OK -- even darkly humorous -- when Zeman made such a defense in his own behalf. But Philip Morris, the world's largest cigarette maker, recently made the mistake of distributing a report in the Czech Republic that made those same arguments."

The writer continues: "Once the outcry erupted, it didn't take Philip Morris long to realize that the report had been a big mistake. In a news release in late July, the company said the report 'exhibited terrible judgment as well as a complete and unacceptable disregard of basic human values.'"

The "Los Angeles Times" writer quotes an antismoking activist as saying that the company's apology amounted to nothing more than "a cynical act of damage control unless the company also supports real change to reduce the deadly toll of tobacco." Holley said that Philip Morris shows no sign of moving in that direction.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this Western Press Review.)