Randall Yip, UNITY Interns Reflect on Roxana Saberi

This was originally published on aaja.org.  Randall Yip is a former AAJA National Vice President for Broadcast, an ELP graduate, started and continues the Broadcast Mentor Program, and is Senior Producer for KGO-TV in San Francisco covering consumer issues.

The news that American journalist Roxana Saberi had been arrested in Iran left me stunned and feeling powerless. Surely nothing I could do or say could influence a foreign government without ties to the United States.

My body literally began to shake when I heard the news. I hadn’t reacted to anything like that since 1997 when my wife told me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Nothing can really prepare you for such news. When it happens, you really feel blindsided.

I first met Roxana during the Unity Convention in Seattle in 1999. I served as one of the coordinators of the Student TV Project that year and helped to select Roxana as one of the interns. The hours were long and the work intense, but I have fond memories of my work with Roxana as I have with all the other students on the project.

ABC News Correspondent Stephanie Sy is now based in Beijing and worked as an intern during that Unity Project. Stephanie and Roxana were roommates that year and remain close.

“Roxana was planning to fly to New York City for my wedding next month, and had bought her ticket shortly before being detained” Stephanie told me in an e-mail. “I last saw her before I left for my assignment in China about two years ago. I have been in touch with her parents since she has been detained. I have written a personal, heart-felt letter to the Iranian UN Mission in New York addressed to Ambassador Mohamma Khazzee. I don’t know how it will help, but I would urge others who personally know Roxana to do the same,” wrote Stephanie.

I too turned to the written word when I heard the news. I shot off e-mails to AAJA’s executive board and new Executive Director, Ellen Endo, about the news. I also alerted Unity. About the same time, others were also alerting the AAJA board including Craig Gima from the Honolulu Star Bulletin. AAJA and Unity immediately jumped into action, drafting joint statements calling for Roxana’s release.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has also worked quickly, collecting 10,000 signatures on Facebook in support of Roxana.

In the week that’s followed, the Radio and Television News Directors, Association, and news executives from ABC News, NPR, BBC, PBS, Wall Street Journal, Fox News Channel and FeatureStory.com have issued similar statements. Those are all news organizations Roxana has worked for during her career as an international journalist.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also said she the United States would do everything it could to win Roxana’s release.

There’s evidence all these efforts are starting to work. Maybe what we do here can influence a government thousands of miles away. For the first time since her more than month long captivity, a family attorney has been allowed to see Roxana and she has been allowed to call her family. She told them she loved them and had not been physically abused by Iraqi authorities.

Roxana’s friends remain hopeful she will win her freedom.

“She is an American journalist doing one of the most courageous and difficult assignments for any reporter: going outside her comfort zone into a guarded and intimidating international region to tell the stories that need to be told, said Vicky Nguyen, a reporter at KNTV in San Francisco and another intern from the Unity TV Project in 1999. “I am hopeful she will be released immediately, unharmed.”

“Her Zest for adventure, for learning and educating, never ceases to amaze me,” said Toan Lam, who also interned with Roxana during the Unity 99 project and who is now a freelance reporter/producer in San Francisco. “I look forward to reconnecting with Roxana soon — as my thoughts and prayers go out to her and her family.”

There is reason to be hopeful because miracles do happen. My wife is celebrating 12 years as a breast cancer survivor.

There have also been reports Roxana could be released within days.


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