Coronavirus News Asia

Why media get North Korea wrong

There were red faces in newsrooms across the world when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appeared, in conditions of apparently robust health and considerable jollity, in film and images put out by Pyongyang’s state-run news organization Korean Central News Agency on May 2.

Why the red faces?

Because, multiple reports, as well as a multitude of reports of reports, had alleged that, amid a three-week absence in the midst of a global pandemic, Kim, the leader of a nuclear armed state that is at odds with  much of the world, was incapacitated, brain dead – or plain dead.

Clearly – unless North Korea is engaged in a truly in-depth (and unlikely) disinformation campaign involving a body double or the release of old film and photos – he was not.

How could so many media get such a big story so very wrong?

After op-tier international outlet CNN reported that Kim was gravely ill, an explosion of reports was ignited. So were predictions as regards who would take over, with most speculation focusing on his younger sister and close aide, Kim Yo Jong.

It was not just media. Two prominent North Korean defectors, Ji Sung-ho and Thae Young-ho, both elected to the South Korean parliament in April, bullishly told media that they were convinced Kim was in poor health or worse.

“What I can say 99% for sure is that he died after undergoing heart surgery over the weekend,” Ji said in an interview in South Korea. 

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