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WATCH NOW/Kenosha News editorial: Whether in Myanmar or the U.S., journalism is vital to a free society

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American journalist Danny Fenster, who spent nearly six months in jail in military-ruled Myanmar, has arrived in the United States. Fenster was sentenced last week to 11 years of hard labor. He was handed over Monday to former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson, who helped negotiate the release. He landed in New York on Tuesday. Upon arrival, Fenster told The Associated Press in an interview that he was "incredibly grateful" to be back in the U.S. Fenster insists that his work in Myanmar isn't done, but that he has no plans to go back to the country.

Danny Fenster, an American journalist imprisoned for half a year by Myanmar’s military junta government, was freed on Nov. 15 into the custody of Bill Richardson, the former U.S. diplomat and New Mexico governor who helped secure his freedom, and they left the country bound for the United States, the New York Times reported.

Fenster, 37, had been sentenced three days before to 11 years in prison and faced the possibility of an additional 40 years on nebulous charges. The Southeast Asian nation of 54 million has been torn by violence since the military staged a coup in February and began a brutal crackdown against pro-democracy protesters.

A court convicted Fenster on charges of disseminating information that could be harmful to the military, unlawful association with opponents of the regime and violating immigration law. It gave him the maximum possible sentence of 11 years.

Fenster is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar magazine. The prosecution based its case on his prior employment with the online news outlet Myanmar Now, which the junta has banned. Fenster left Myanmar Now in July 2020, more than six months before the coup, but the court found him guilty anyway.

Today, we’re writing in this space about an American correspondent being released from a country 8,000 miles to remind readers of something important: Journalism is not a crime.

Reporting on the activities of a government is of vital importance to a society. Foreign correspondents can be the only way the truth about government activities can be learned by the outside world.

Here in America, at our best, the media — enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution as the freedom “of the press,” but of course in 2021 journalism doesn’t necessarily involve a printing press — are the unofficial fourth branch of government, serving as a check on the three official branches.

At our best, we keep our readers and viewers informed of the activities of the government bodies they elect, whether at the municipal, county, state or national level.

At our best, we shine a light where people up to no good want only darkness.

At our best, we afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

Are we always at our best? Well, there’s a reason the heading “Corrections” appears in this newspaper from time to time. When we get a fact wrong, we correct the record under that heading.

Are there some members of the media who are more ethical than others? Yes, of course.

Freedom of the press means not every publisher is going to have the same standards.

But a free press is essential to a free society.


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