September 25, 2020

Undercover “Journalism” in the DPRK

As most people are aware, Western journalists are not typically welcome in North Korea. The case of Euna Lee and Laura Ling last year was a good example of what can happen to those too eager for an NK scoop.  But that didn’t stop David McNeill of London’s ‘The Independent’ travelling to the DPRK just two weeks ago, ostensibly as a tourist attending the Pyongyang International Film Festival, but most likely there to try and cover the impeding Party Congress, initially rumoured to be starting around the same time.  He wasn’t the first reporter to enter the country on a tourist visa, and he won’t be the last.   But one thing is for sure, his front page story is a classic example of the hyperbolic and sensationalist approach to North Korea reporting that is standard in mainstream media -  a standard where fact-checking and normally rigid editorial standards go right out of the window.

McNeill starts his tourist ‘exposé’ by explaining that just behind the boulevards of Pyongyang, “stories abound of poverty and malnutrition.” The reality?  Well, as in any other capital city, differences do exist between the showcase boulevards and less well developed back streets.  However, this qualitative difference does not mean those living in the back streets are thus starving or living in abject poverty.  No, those living in Pyongyang’s backstreets are living in relative luxury to the rest of the country – where McNeill should have gone if he wanted to prove that yes, North Korea is a poor country.