By Jackson Richman
NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt reported from North Korea this week in advance of the Winter Olympics, scheduled to be held in South Korea. Holt’s reporting did not come without criticism, however, such as Holt being accused of schilling for the regime.
Nonetheless, Holt’s reporting provided a poignant reminder of what a country looks like without any freedom, including of the press.
North Korea is ranked last in the organization’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, according to Reporters Without Borders, which advocates for freedom of the press worldwide.
According to the Associated Press:
Critics like former Fox News commentator Eric Bolling tweeted disgust with Holt’s on-air comment on Monday that he had been treated with respect by the North Koreans. The New York Post, in an editorial, said that “we’re still trying to figure out why NBC ‘Nightly News’ and Lester Holt decided to shill for North Korea’s dictatorship.”
It was clear even from Holt’s early reporting that he was being shown only what the regime wanted him to see. While at the ski resort, he said on Sunday’s “Today” show that “what you’re seeing here certainly flies in the face of a country that’s undergoing crippling sanctions and that may be part of the reason we were invited to see this.”
Still, he watched his words. Holt operated under the assumption that everything that was said, including internal editorial discussions among NBC colleagues, was being monitored while he was still in their country, he said.
“I don’t want to say we censor ourselves, but you have to be mindful of the fact that you’re continuing the trip there,” he said. “You’re considerably more free when you’re out of there in how you frame certain things.”
As of this writing, there are three Americans currently being held captive by the hermit kingdom: Kim Dong Shul, Tony Kim, and Kim Has-Song. Had Holt criticized the regime while reporting there, it is likely America would be talking about a fourth U.S. captive being imprisoned in North Korea. Last September, University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier was released from captivity for stealing a poster in his hotel, but almost came home as a corpse, only to pass away shortly thereafter.
To highlight how North Korea suppresses freedom of the press, among all other liberties, is important, even if it may or may not warrant criticism of covering for the regime. Considering that Holt, after leaving the country, did not praise or buy into what North Korea tried to sell him, his correspondence there should be looked at as an important reminder, not as propaganda, which the regime feeds its people on a daily basis through state-controlled media.