AP reports “Ice Bucket Challenge” in North Korea; doesn’t on NK repression of disabled people
Viral water dunking campaign for charity staged in Pyongyang by American rappers
By Nate Thayer
Sept 1, 2014
The Associated Press should be ashamed of themselves for being a willing collaborator in disseminating the state propaganda of North Korea, the world’s most egregious enemy of human rights and individual freedoms.
Today was just one more of a triple-digit long list of news reports that have been published under the AP name after being manipulated, intimidated, or self censored to effectively deceive the readers outside North Korea.
Today, the AP published a story with a byline by Associated Press staff correspondent Eric Talmadge, and datelined Pyongyang, North Korea:
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Arrives in North Korea
PYONGYANG, North Korea — Aug 31, 2014, 10:48 AM ET
By ERIC TALMADGE Associated Press
“It’s pretty hard to find a novel way to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by now, but two-time Grammy-winning rapper Pras Michel, a founding member of the Fugees, has done it — getting his dousing in the center of North Korea’s capital on Sunday.
Pras had two buckets of ice water dumped on his head along Pyongyang’s Taedong River, much to the surprise and bewilderment — and laughter — of North Koreans out for a stroll or some fishing on their day off.
The American rapper and documentary filmmaker said he wanted to join in the immensely popular charity challenge and thought Pyongyang — where the ice bucket craze is unknown — would be the perfect place to do it.”
“I thought I’d put a little twist to it,” he told The Associated Press. “When we go to places, my crew, we stick out. You can tell instantly these guys aren’t from this neck of the woods. But the people have been good to us.”
More than 3 million people around the world have joined in the challenge, which has raised more than $100 million for the ALS Association. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive illness that hits the nerves and the brain and can lead to paralysis and death. There is no cure, though a treatment now available can extend the life expectancy for its sufferers.”
There is not a professional journalist in the world who would not instantly recognize the above Associated Press story about a global charity craze focused on the plight of disabled people that has spread to Pyongyang as crying out, indeed mandating, the inclusion of proper context.
That context is the current state of the lives of people with disabilities led living under the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea qualifies as a crime against humanity, according to international law.
For the Associated Press to neglect to mention that fact is, without a scintilla of room for debate, not an error. It was a predetermined decision of self censorship to deceive by omission its readership and predicated by a signed pact with the devil the Associated Press signed with the North Korean government in January 2011.
The state of disabled people in North Korea does not take much effort to research. And it takes exactly none if your job is the Associated Press bureau chief in Pyongyang: You already know the facts.
They wouldn’t even have to leave the office.
They could reference previous AP stories on the state of affairs faced by people with disabilities in North Korea, such as this one from November 10, 2006:
U.N.: N. Korea puts disabled in camps
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The North Korean government rounds up disabled people and sends them away from the capital Pyongyang to special camps, where they are sorted by their handicap and subjected to “subhuman conditions,” a recently released U.N. report said.
Author Vitit Muntarbhorn, special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea, cited reports from defectors who said the mentally disabled are sent to camps known as “Ward 49.” Other camps exist for dwarfs, who may marry but are barred from having children.”
Or this AP story from 2007:
SEOUL—Rejected and marginalized by a regime that has only recently begun to acknowledge their existence, disabled North Koreans live under effective house arrest and are routinely expelled from the capital, Pyongyang, defectors and aid groups say. Defectors now living overseas have described a society that routinely uses derogatory language about the disabled, and an almost total lack of rehabilitation facilities or social services for them. “In the North, disabled persons are looked down upon and contemptuously called ‘cripples’ or ‘freaks,’” North Korean defector Lee Aeran said.”
On March 22, 2006, the Associated Press reported from South Korea that a North Korean doctor said “babies born with physical defects are rapidly put to death and buried.”
In 2011, Free North Korea Radio, a U.S. funded media platform run by North Korean defectors, reported that “disabled children who are born in the city of Pyongyang are taken into government run hospitals and are suffocated to death by smothering wet towel over their face.”
The report quoted a recent North Korean defector, a captain of a North Korean trading vessel, who said his family gave up his grandson who was born disabled. “Give up your grandson, or you don’t get to live in Pyongyang. We will give you a week to decide. I was afraid that if I didn’t decide, I would be persecuted as a traitor who disobeyed Kim Jong Il, and then be excommunicated to a wasteland. I had no choice. I had to give up my grandson.”
He said the Pyongyang government killed the baby and his family was labelled “as a genetically defective family that gives births to disabled babies.”
He said: “We had everything North Korean society wanted from us – foundation, education. We were still eventually excommunicated. They test you on how to answer to foreigners’ questions if you’re trading overseas. One of the things they teach you is that Pyongyang has no disabled people at all.”
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights “expressed deep concern” at the “mistreatment of and discrimination of disabled children” citing “continuing reports of violations of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with disabilities, especially on the use of collective camps and of coercive measures that target the rights of person with disabilities to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children,” adding that people with “disabilities are sent away from the capital city” and subject to “harsh and subhuman conditions.”
North Korea is the world’s most repressive country.
But North Korean objectionable official policies are not limited to people with disability.
One only has to review the recent words of North Korean state media to get a clear view of North Korean official policy towards the disabled; racial equality; religious freedom; human rights; women’s rights; gay rights; press freedom, and most other categories of individual liberties taken for granted as the objective of most people globally.
Pyongyang places dead last, or near last, in every single above category of human freedom surveyed annually.
A 2004 article in the North Korean official state media was titled:
Human Love Fully Displayed in DPRK
KCNA– Human love is being fully displayed among the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. At the Kim Man Yu Hospital, a crippled girl was treated to walk by herself. Foreigners who witnessed such beautiful deeds said that such warm love for people can be seen only in Korean socialist society where all the people live as a big harmonious family with leader Kim Jong Il as their father.
In 2010, KCNA lashed out against objections to its human rights policies:
KCNA Terms U.S. World’s Worst Human Rights Abuser
Pyongyang, March 27 (KCNA) — The Korean Central News Agency issued an indictment slamming the U.S. hideous human rights abuses. It brands the U.S. human rights racket as a poor artifice to cover up its poorest human rights record and threaten and blackmail sovereign states.
Drug abuses getting more rife in the U.S. with each passing day are producing an increasing number of mental and physical cripples.
It had better seriously repent of its own human rights issue and human rights abuses before styling itself a “human rights judge” jeered by the world.
Here is a taste of North Korean views on other human rights issues from recent weeks:
In April, 2014 North Korean state media, KCNA, lashed out against U.S. president Barrack Obama, citing him as a “monkey climbing up this and that tree and scrounging up fruits on the ground” and referencing “Obama’s gut-wrenching, revolting facial features” and concluding “it’s certain that Obama has slipped out of the body of a monkey” and concluding “he should live as a monkey in an African natural zoo licking the breadcrumbs thrown by spectators.”
Also in April, The United Nation Commission on Human Rights in North Korea issued a scathing report on the current state of human rights in the country, authored by the highly respected Australian human rights lawyer and high court jurist, Michael Kirby, who is openly gay.
KCNA Commentary Slams Artifice by Political Swindlers
Pyongyang, April 22 (KCNA) — ….Now, the forces hostile toward the DPRK regard the “human rights issue” as a main lever for stifling it since they had no way out over the “nuclear issue”….Lurking behind it is a dishonest and political purpose of the U.S. and its followers seeking to undermine the ideology and social system of the DPRK.
After all, such political swindlers as Kirby were mobilized so as to internationalize the nonexistent “human rights issue” of the DPRK.
As for Kirby who took the lead in cooking the “report”, he is a disgusting old lecher with a 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality. He is now over seventy, but he is still anxious to get married to his homosexual partner.
This practice can never be found in the DPRK boasting of the sound mentality and good morals, and homosexuality has become a target of public criticism even in Western countries, too. In fact, it is ridiculous for such gay to sponsor dealing with others’ human rights issue.
Also in May of this year, during U.S. president Obama’s visit to South Korea, Pyongyang excoriated the president of South Korea, who is a woman.
“The people are unanimous in deploring the fact that there is no remedy for curing (South Korean president) Park’s mental disease as she has gone so mad” condemning her for “inviting her American master reminiscent of a wicked black monkey to visit south Korea on April 25.”
The official ruling party paper, Rodong Sinbun, carried a multi-part article titled: “Bitch.” It formatted the news article as quoting local North Korean citizens.
Pyongyang doctor Kim Jong Hui was said to remark “Park Geun Hye had never married, nor given birth to child. It is really ridiculous that such a cold-blooded animal talked about human affairs, feigning to be concerned about our women and children. It would make even a cat laugh.”
Kim Hyoko, a student at Hamhung Teacher Training College No. 2, was quoted saying “During her recent trip to some countries, this ugly old maid let loose a strain of abuses at us…She is a pumpkin, a witch full of hatred for her fellow countrymen.”
KCNA reported on “Park’s mental disease” saying “She is no more than an old prostitute coquetting with outside forces” and a “dirty political harlot and old prostitute” and saying “all Koreans are spitting on her as she is resorting to whorish and disgusting political prostitution only after leaving her soul or chastity violated at such old age of over 60.”
The Associated Press bureau in Pyongyang reported on none of the above comments, which were reported widely by news media based outside of the totalitarian state.
I have no doubt that hundreds of the excellent journalists who work for the AP are routinely embarrassed and offended by the sub par news product that the AP Pyongyang bureau regularly publishes.
But their silence has been deafening.
In January of 2012, the AP appointed veteran reporter Jean H. Lee as Pyongyang Bureau Chief. Ms. Lee promised: “We’ve communicated our standards of journalism and won’t compromise. We will adhere to AP standards. The North Korean government doesn’t screen anything we write.”
In October of 2013, AP replaced her with Eric Talmadge. Talmadge is a veteran correspondent who has covered “a wide range of stories and events throughout Asia over the past 25 years”, from the war in Afghanistan to five Olympics has covered disasters in Japan and Indonesia, war in Afghanistan and five Olympics, and most recently was the AP news editor in Tokyo and “led a team of AP journalists focused on military and security issues in the Asia-Pacific region” for the AP.
In other words, Both Jean Lee and Eric Talmadge know better.
When the AP negotiated the deal to open up a news bureau in the capital city of the world’s most antagonistic government to a free press, they were forced to agree to run the AP bureau out of the offices of the the official mouthpiece of the government. Further, they were required to hire government selected and provided, trained North Korean intelligence agents as AP staff reporters and photographers.
At first AP management would only identify their reporting staff as “natives of North Korea.” What they didn’t say is that there is no debate that the Associated Press staff reporter in Pyongyang, North Korean journalist Pak Won Il, is also a trained intelligence agent of the North Korean secret services. AP managing editor John Daniszewski called Pak a “young journalist with multimedia experience at KCNA, speaks English, said he had lived in Thailand for part of his youth,” according to an article in Foreign Policy in 2013.
The Korean Central News Agency is the North Korean official news agency which “speaks for the Workers’ Party of Korea and the DPRK government.”
KCNA recently reported that “The hearts of all the journalists and other media persons throughout the country are now burning with hatred at the renewed provocations of the group of traitors and their determination is running high.”
The North Korean government provided a pool of candidates to the AP to select from. “We selected him for his current role among news-gatherers who were available,” said AP media relations director Paul Colford at the time. “We met him, we considered him very carefully, and he works under the supervision of Jean H. Lee and other AP editors.”
Colford assured readers that “All news gatherers working for the AP around the world, especially those new to our staff, are scrupulously and rigorously edited according to our high standards of accuracy and fairness,” said .
Any reporter who is familiar with reporting on North Korea knows that those contentions are exactly the insidiously dishonest spin which AP reporters themselves are trained to discard.
Current bureau chief Talmadge knows precisley which of the ethical short cuts the AP reporting from the Pyongyang bureau he now heads unambiguously violate the AP’s own core mandatory minimum standards that guide all AP news stories worldwide.
Here is what AP needs to do: exactly what every other news story written by the thousands of AP correspondents across the globe are required to do–do the best they can come up with in Pyongyang and send the copy to the Asia-Pacific regional headquarters, now located in Bangkok.
There, the AP editors scrutinize the news copy for balance, accuracy, context, and sourcing. Those editors then send the revised copy back to Pyongyang with a series of queries and cuts and additions. If the story is relevant to issues of current import elsewhere, or would benefit from additions or input available elsewhere in the region or globally, messages are sent to those bureaus for additional reporting or input to be added.
If the story is of interest outside of Asia, it is sent to New York for editing to be placed on the World Wire. Both in New York and in Bangkok, the story is cut for length and relevancy to the AP’s various audiences globally.
Never, ever is pertinent missing information left out of a story because it will upset the host government where an AP bureau is located. That is, except in the case of Pyongyang in the case of the Associated Press.
This sausage making process–which the AP has always taken very, very seriously, is designed to ensure that minimum standards of journalistic credibility and impartiality and accuracy are respected. It often makes for quite dry ‘just the facts. ma’am’ reading, but it is rarely not accurate and balanced.
It is time for the professional journalists of the AP to stand up and turn their harsh gaze of professional scrutiny at themselves.
(Full disclosure: I am a former staff reporter for the AP for several years reporting from and on Asia, including as an AP correspondent in North Korea)
After two years of negotiations, the Associated Press cut a deal in January 2012 with the North Korean Ministry of Propaganda and Agitation to open up an AP “bureau” in Pyongyang.
The agreement was negotiated by the top executives of the AP who shuttled back and forth to Pyongyang more than a dozen times before inking a meticulously negotiated written agreement with specific terms that would allow the AP to open an office in North Korea.
The AP has repeatedly refused to release that agreement or comment on what the restrictions, provisions, or terms of the document includes.
It is time for the AP to be as transparent as they demand of the the subjects of every other news story they write and publish daily, and reveal the strict terms of the written agreement Associated Press executives signed with the worlds most offensive violator of a free press, free expression, and free speech that allowed them to open a so-called news bureau in Pyongyang and soil the good name of the AP by issuing meticulously censored articles that knowingly manipulate and sanitize the view the free world has about the most repressive government on earth, aiding and abetting the unspeakable suffering of 24 million people.
Did they sign a pact with the devil? Or did they agree to terms that ensured the basic principles of a free press would be respected and defended?
The Associated Press should publicly release the written agreements they signed in June of 2011 and January 2012 with the Ministry of Propaganda and Agitation of the Korean Worker’s Party of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
If the senior executives of the Associated Press in New York continue to decline to do so, one of the 1300 journalists they employ worldwide should step up and do what they do best, and do very well everywhere in the world save for Pyongyang North Korea: Get a copy of the documents and leak them.
My email address is [email protected] and my phone number in Washington D.C. is 443 205 9162.
You can get in touch at any hour of any day.
The 24 million citizens of North Korea are waiting for the free press to do their job.