Arrest for Insufficient Mourning at Funeral of Kim Jong Il? Unlikely Media Hype
January 16, 2012
By Nate Thayer
The story that North Korea has launched a sweeping campaign arresting and punishing people who didn’t mourn sufficiently at the death of Kim Jung Il has gone viral, published in virtually every major media outlet worldwide.
Headlines all had a common theme: “Six months in labor camp for N. Koreans who didn’t cry at despot’s funeral” and “North Korea reportedly punishing insincere mourners” and even “If You Didn’t Cry Like a Maniac for Kim Jong-Il, You’re Going to Prison” (New York Magazine).
But there is one problem: There is no remotely credible evidence it is true.
Every single published report can be traced back to a single unidentified, unnamed North Korean source in a remote province quoted by a single South Korean website on January 11.
The website, the Daily NK, is comprised of North Korean defectors who, for obviously legitimate reasons, rarely names contacts it quotes from within a country where unauthorized talking—little less criticism—to a foreign reporter means certain harsh imprisonment at best. But the Daily NK also has a history of loose commitment to accuracy and a very defined political agenda. It advocates the overthrow of the North Korean government.
A Google search will show 1,700.000 hits since this particular story was posted four days ago. Every major wire service from the AP, Reuters, AFP, Kyodo, to the Washington Post, The Financial Times and on down to papers and broadcasters from Peoria to Harare and thousands of obscure web sites and blogs, have run the story with a smirk and no attempt at corroborating its accuracy.
It is an interesting case study on how the world’s uncensored free press sometimes operates.
When it comes to North Korea, it is virtually impossible to further blacken their self created reputation of outrageous violations of human dignity and buffoonish bizarre behavior. The DPRK has created a self inflicted scenario where virtually anything that is written about the carefully orchestrated public image of the country is believable. Only last week, as one of many examples, the North Korean government reported that the new leader, Kim Jong Un, learned to drive a car at age three and could drive 75 kilometers an hour on dirt roads by age eight.
But that doesn’t absolve the legitimate media from responsibility for running a story fully aware with a cursory check had entirely insufficient sourcing to merit republishing—however cleverly they phrased the report to distance culpability for spreading what as likely was intentional disinformation as a factual story.
So despite the serious-as-cancer story of the reality of a North Korea now run by a small group of thugs more resembling a neighborhood based mafia organized crime gang than a government with the 4th largest standing army on the planet armed with nuclear weapons, reporting on North Korea has a high degree of voyeuristic entertainment value. It isn’t the demise of the leader of a significant country that has grabbed headlines these past weeks, but rather the cartoonish spectacle of their hard to fathom antics.
The original source of the story, the Daily NK on January 11, read, at its most substantive: “The North Korean authorities have completed the criticism sessions which began after the mourning period for Kim Jong Il and begun to punish those who transgressed during the highly orchestrated mourning events. Daily NK learned from a source from North Hamkyung Province on January 10th, “The authorities are handing down at least six months in a labor-training camp to anybody who didn’t participate in the organized gatherings during the mourning period, or who did participate but didn’t cry and didn’t seem genuine.”
Every single news story that picked it up and spread it around the world will lead back to this single uncorroborated, unidentified paragraph. It is a case of a story being too good not to run with by letting the known facts interfere.
North Korea reacted yesterday on their official news site, KCNA: “The noble blood and tears of our people have been blasphemed by spurious claims of coerced sadness and stage-management,” adding, “The propaganda…is reaching a level that can no longer be tolerated.”
Referring to the international media as “the reptilian press” (their English translation is regularly rather erudite and clever in its evocativeness) who were “hell-bent on slinging mud with collections of the world’s worst invectives, deserves the severest punishment by justice and truth.”
The official Korean Central News Agency continued: “The noble blood and tears of our people have been blasphemed by spurious claims of coerced sadness and stage-management,” and spat vitriol at the free press as “not content with this, they released such misinformation touching off towering resentment that ‘those who failed to show tears at memorial services were sent to a concentration camp and the military was ordered to kill three generations of those who attempt to defect to the south.’”
The DPRK characterized the world free press as “Intolerable is the hair-raising behavior of the depraved who ceased to live under the same sky” who are “are pitiable human scum” and that North Korea “feel(s) towering hatred as well as redoubled conviction of victory when seeing this sorry sight of the hostile forces.” KCNA concluded: “We will bring punishment to generation after generation of the gang of traitors that will make them shudder” and their armed forces “will as ever consolidate their single-minded unity in every way no matter what others may say and dynamically advance only along the chosen road.”
In this case, North Korea may have a legitimate reason to be a bit perturbed. The non-North Korean press were doing exactly to its own audience what the DPRK does as policy: Knowingly mislead it’s audience.