Tuesday, June 16, 2009

North Korea, American Journalists, the Internet, and Power to the People

Unlike America and some other countries, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has well-managed, law-abiding, and - above all - loyal news media.

Today, the the Korean Central News Agency discussed Laura Ling and Euna Lee again: the two American journalists who entered North Korea. We know that they did so illegally, since a North Korean court said so.
"North Korea's state media released a 'detailed report' Tuesday claiming that American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee entered the country illegally in order to record material for a 'smear campaign' against the reclusive communist state.

"It added that the two women 'admitted that what they did were criminal acts ... prompted by the political motive to isolate and stifle the socialist system of the DPRK by faking up moving images aimed at falsifying its human rights performance and hurling slanders and calumnies at it.'..." (CNN)
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)'s report is a shining light, and an example to journalists everywhere. One way or another.

KCNA Coverage: News Done the Way Dear Leader Likes

Where American reporters and editors might have been asking questions about the treatment of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, and digging for indications of mistreatment, KCNA steadfastly stands by its government, assuring citizens of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea of the correctness of the journalists' conviction: and providing talking points to supporters of the Jong Il dynasty around the world.

Now, think back to American press coverage of the 'hideous mistreatment' of alleged terrorists at Guantanamo. Some of them were forced to sit on grass, and there was some difficulty at first, providing them with food that exactly met their particular dietary specifications. Shocking.

In sharp contrast, KCNA's message is that anybody who is not supportive of Kim Jong Il's regime is pretty much all nasty.
"...'The investigation proved that the intruders crossed the border and committed the crime for the purpose of making animation files to be used for an anti-DPRK smear campaign over its human rights issue,' the Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday...." (CNN)

Let's Keep an Open Mind Here: North Korea, Culture, and Expectations

I think it could be argued that we may be looking at cultural differences between North Korea and America.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee were in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as journalists.
"Smear Campaign," "Investigative Reporting:" "Tomato, Tomahto"
I get the impression, from the outcome of their closed-door trial and KCNA's latest report, that they were engaged in what has been called "investigative reporting" here in America.

In North Korea, the same thing seems to be called "...making animation files to be used for an anti-DPRK smear campaign over its human rights issue...."

The issue here is a little more basic than the dichotomy dramatized by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in "Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto! / Let's call the whole thing off!" ("Shall We Dance" 1937): but there are indications that North Korean authorities cultural norms, and those of the Americans, were not the same.

I think it's possible to argue that the sentencing and imprisonment of the American journalists is as much a matter of clashing cultural values, as law. And, sadly for the two American journalists, we can't "call the whole thing off."

Not, I suspect, until Kim Jong Il gets whatever concessions or favors he wants this time. I could be wrong, but I still strongly suspect that Laura Ling and Euna Lee are being used as bargaining chips in another of Kim Jong Il's aggressive diplomatic forays.
Giving Credit Where Credit is Due: Kim Jong Il's Been an Effective Negotiator
An aside: Although I do not approve of the policies and philosophy of Dear Leader's regime, I do have a sort of admiration for his negotiating abilities. With very few allies, and dealing with a terribly weak economy, Kim Jong Il has repeatedly forced other nations into more-or-less grudging support.

All Things Considered, I'd Rather Live With America's News Media: And the Internet

North Korea isn't the only place where those in power are accustomed to a well-run, loyal, news media. I think one of the problems that Iran had recently with Roxana Saberi was that the American journalist asked questions. That may not be what journalists are expected to do in that Islamic republic.
Woodstock is History: Deal With It
I think that many of the deeply entrenched, traditional elements of American journalism haven't quite gotten over the passing of Woodstock, and cherish the feelings and attitudes of their 'hell, no, we won't go' days.

But I'd rather have that, than a press that routinely delivers reports on the excellence of the President's views and the debased loathsomeness displayed by enemies of the Union.

As for what I think is a deep-rooted distrust and fear of the institutions which maintain their freedom, I think that matters less now. I was born in the Truman administration, and have watched broadcast television networks grow into giants on America's cultural landscape, and fade into the background: supplanted by cable and the Internet.
It's Not Just ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS Any More
When I grew up, news media, educators, publishers, and entertainment media were the major - and virtually the only - information gatekeepers in America. If they decided that the masses in America shouldn't know something, we didn't. Apart from a few specialists, or people whose lives were directly affected by the unwanted facts.

No conspiracies involved: that's just the way things worked. And, it worked pretty well. As long as the people running those institutions had differing views.

Somewhere between the sixties and eighties, I get the impression that the 'right' sort of people ended up running all four branches. With exceptions, of course.

Happily, around that time cable television was making serious inroads on broadcast television's virtual monopoly on what people watched. (I'm not ignoring radio - but America culture is very visually oriented, and pictures do seem to be worth a thousand words.)

Then, people started using the Internet.

Freedom's Messy - But Worth it

In my youth, some conservatives complained that there 'oughta be a law' against criticizing the government. I understand the feeling: but I know too much about places where criticizing the government is, in fact if not in theory, illegal.

I'd rather live in America.

Freedom is a messy, sometimes unpleasant, thing.

But if it's done right, people will speak their minds: even if the dean of the department doesn't agree; or if it's an embarrassment to a government agency or advocacy group.

Issues can be identified, and dealt with, if people are allowed to speak.

"Freedom of expression" on a regional, national or global level used to be limited to those persons whose wealth and/or position made it possible for them to relate their views to the masses.

With the information technology that's evolving today, that power to be heard is returning to the people. I think we're at the beginning of an exciting - and disturbing - period.

Related posts: Selected posts on information gatekeepers: Selected posts on alternative versions of reality: In the news:


Anonymous said...

You have a good blog. Would you like to exchange links? I have an analysis blog about foreign policy issues: http://www.forumforforeignaffairs.blogspot.com

Brian H. Gill said...

Foreign Affairs Guru,

Thanks for the offer - and the link. Right now, the blogroll is bloated: and I don't have time to try organizing it.

Thanks, anyway.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.