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First published in  Huffington Post
The Scoop
July 20, 2012

North Korea: Victim of Western Media Conspiracy?

Emily Dyer on why North Korea really is as bad as it's portrayed

Emily Dyer

Greater media attention has recently been brought upon the home of the world’s worst human rights abuses, North Korea, particularly for its vast system of slave labour camps – used as dustbins of society into which anyone whom the regime suspects to be disloyal are flung. Here, thousands of people face starvation, torture and daily public executions.

In fact, in the words of Paul Watson in yesterday’s Guardian,

it is almost impossible to find any piece of positive European journalism relating to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

This is because it is almost impossible to find anything positive to say about the North Korean regime.

Imagine my disappointment and frustration, however, when Watson went on to blame North Korea’s bad press on, not its systematic and brutal oppression of its own people, but a Western agenda to ‘pigeonhole the DPRK’.

He accuses ‘European journalism’ of ignoring ‘North Korean initiatives’ as they ‘don’t square easily’ with its pro-South and anti-North ‘message.’

What ‘North Korean initiatives’ are there to be positive about? And is there anything that could justify portraying the DPRK in a positive light, given its continued systematic human rights abuses upon its own people? Watson, despite what appear to be his best efforts, provides none – yet complains that no one else can either.

It goes without saying that South Korea is by no means exempt from criticism and, if there are sources that argue otherwise, I have yet to see them. Watson could easily have written an article providing evidence as to why South Korea is by no means perfect, in the light of the recent report by Amnesty International documenting human rights concerns in South Korea. In fact, if I was being generous, I would say that perhaps this is what he originally set out to do.

Watson could have also made the point that because South Korea’s neighbour is the most oppressive, brutal regime in the world, it often blinds the media to the faults of the South’s own policies. However, what he does instead is to slide entirely to the other extreme, apologising for the DPRK and dismissing criticism as ‘fantastic stories that enthrall readers but aren’t grounded in hard fact’.

While on one hand Watson complains about the ‘lack of Western sources in North Korea’ – which is a legitimate problem, due to the regime’s paranoid refusal to allow for any coverage of the regime to take place that is beyond their own control – he goes on to make the ridiculous claim that ‘North Korea remains an area in which journalists have free licence for sensationalism and partiality’. I doubt – although I could easily be wrong – that Watson has ever tried to enter North Korea as a journalist as, if he had done so, he would know that it is a near impossible feat. The survival of the DPRK depends on as little information being exchanged across its borders as possible.

Instead, by blaming North Korea’s undeniably negative press coverage on some malicious Western agenda, Watson implies that North Korea is not to blame.

I am hoping, for the sake of Watson’s reputation as a journalist, that he is genuinely ignorant to the forced labour, torture and public executions that regularly and systematically take place within North Korea’s concentration camps. I hope he has never bothered to hear or read about Shin Dong-hyuk’s story of the torture he was forced to witness and endure from birth, due to the supposed ‘crimes’ of his parents. If not, he can read about it here.

If Watson has indeed heard about these things, how dare he dismiss concerns about the welfare of the North Korean people as ‘moral melodrama’ and ‘pantomime’? Why is he apologising for and denying the terrible practices of the DPRK? How can he describe Ro Su-hui being put in a headlock by South Korean border security as a ‘shocking scene’ whilst being so flippant and dismissive of – even wilfully oblivious to- coverage of North Korean human rights abuses.

Despite Watson’s claims, it is not ‘one-sided’, sensationalist or impartial to state the truth – that North Korea is, in fact, ‘a rogue, propaganda led state’ that enforces absolute control over its people through extreme brutality and fear. That is the reality, and Watson would be better served facing it than creating his own. Guardian readers, the Left, and- most importantly- the North Korean people, deserve far superior journalism to this.

Emily Dyer

About Emily Dyer

Emily joined the Henry Jackson Society as a researcher in January 2012. She is currently researching women’s rights in Egypt having recently co-authored Al-Qaeda in the United States: A Complete Analysis of Terrorism Offenses. Emily previously worked as a Higher Executive Officer for the Preventing Extremism Unit at the Department for Education, where she wrote several papers on extremism within educational settings. Beforehand she was based at the Policy Exchange think tank. Emily has written for a broad range of publications including The Observer, The Telegraph, The Huffington Post, City AM, The Atlantic, CTC Sentinel and Standpoint magazine, largely on women’s rights in the Middle East, extremism, and human rights. Emily studied International Relations from the University of Birmingham, where she produced a First class dissertation on Islamic feminism in Iran, and has travelled widely within Syria and Turkey.

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