What can only be described as a North Korean regime’s propaganda video is being promoted by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a U.S. government agency charged with providing uncensored radio, TV, and Internet news to countries without free media, BBG Watch, a nongovernmental citizen watch group reported. Read From BBG website: Pyongyang is a vibrant city and busy with activity. The video, shot by a Voice of America (VOA) reporter who visited North Korea, can be seen on the VOA English website. The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which manages the Voice of America, is promoting the video in a press release and on its own official website, BBG.gov. The BBG had proposed earlier to end Voice of America radio and TV broadcasts to China but encountered bipartisan criticism in Congress and condemnations from human rights groups. The video has been produced at U.S. taxpayers’ expense. The BBG gets its funding from Congress.
BBG Watch, which is not in any way affiliated with the Broadcasting Board of Governors, wonders who signed off on the press release on the BBG official website, BBG.gov, quoting Voice of America journalist Sungwon Baik, who just completed a rare reporting assignment to North Korea, as saying that the country’s capital city Pyongyang is “vibrant and busy with activity.”
Relative to what? — BBG Watch wonders — the Gulag? What are they smoking, or have we missed the opening of a new shopping mall with chic boutiques in downtown Pyongyang? Apparently, we did. The VOA press release, issued earlier, even has a photo of a well-stocked store. Keep in mind that North Korea has one of the most repressive regimes in the world, but you wouldn’t know it reading the press release on the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ website. At the BBG they have not yet heard of a Potyomkin village.
Link to the video on YouTube.
A VOA correspondent report from Pyongyang includes a video which is devoted largely to repeating North Korean anti-American propaganda claims with almost no attempt to counter any of them in any substantive way. The video shows, among other things, USS Pueblo navy ship captured by the North Koreans in 1968 and features a North Korean guide who insists that the ship strayed into their territorial waters. The United States maintained that the ship was in international waters at the time of the incident. The video ends with a saleswoman dancing for the VOA reporter in a modern-looking store in Pyongyang.
One source reported that BBG officials who wrote the press release had a chance to see the video on Friday. According to our source, Sungwon Baik told them repeatedly that a Potyomkin village was created on the competition venue site but he was sure people did enjoy that kind of abundance of consumer goods in other areas of the city or outside of it. He also said that he noticed video cameras in his hotel room keeping tabs on him 24/7.
So basically, the press release quotes Sungwon Baik out of context and does not truthfully present what he reported at the meeting, our source told us. The interview with Sungwon Baik for VOA English programs also shows that the VOA reporter was very well aware of the Potyomkin village character of his entire stay in North Korea. Still, the VOA video — which can only be described as 80 to 90 percent North Korean propaganda with only a minimal attempt to counter it with most subtle hints — was placed on the Voice of America English website.
According to the press release, Baik was granted access to North Korea earlier this month, after receiving an unprecedented written invitation by North Korean officials, to cover the 17th International Taekwon-Do World Championships in Pyongyang from September 6th through the 12th.
BBG Watch was also amused by the following paragraph in the press release:
North Korean officials at the event said on a number of occasions that they were familiar with VOA broadcasts and that the news programs are well recognized. ‘The first time I thought they were just trying to be polite to me,’ Baik said, ‘but then it was like 6 or 7 times a day they would say that VOA is very important and you can come back.’
We also learn from the press release on the BBG website that “Baik, whose reports aired live on the VOA Korean Service during the taekwon-do competition, interviewed a North Korean member of the International Olympic Committee, Chang Ung, who expressed hope the event would be a turning point in relations with the United States and could pave the way for future cultural and sports exchanges.”
BBG Watch has no doubt that after watching the video from North Korea on the Voice of America English website, VOA reporters will have no problems getting visas from the North Korean regime.
In addition to his reporting on the taekwon-do championships, Baik was allowed to walk around Pyongyang and ride the subway, but always accompanied by an official, the press release notes.
BBG Watch hopes that the Broadcasting Board of Governors members don’t take it as a sign that it’s time to end or reduce Voice of America radio broadcasts to North Korea as they tried to do with VOA radio and TV to China. BBG Watch suspects that North Korean officials may have noticed the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ decisions with regard to China and decided to play a subtle game designed to bring about a softening up of U.S. broadcasts.
In our opinion, the naive descriptions in this press release are not worthy of the news organization created by the United States to expose government lies and to fight censorship. We believe, however, that it is highly characteristic of the current management culture at the BBG and its focus on providing soft news less likely to offend dictatorial regimes.
This strategy — pushed by BBG executives with regard to programming to Russia, China, Ethiopia and a number of other countries but resisted by most VOA, RFA, and RFE/RL journalists to the best of their abilities, keeping in mind, however, that many experienced reporters have been fired by the BBG — is designed to facilitate local program placement and increase audience ratings, BBG Watch observed.
Here is the full text of the press release as it appeared on the BBG official website on Sept. 30, 2011.
Voice of America journalist Sungwon Baik, who just completed a rare reporting assignment to North Korea, says officials there appeared to be conveying a message that they want to improve strained relations with the United States.
Baik was granted access to North Korea earlier this month, after receiving an unprecedented written invitation by North Korean officials, to cover the 17th International Taekwon-Do World Championships in Pyongyang from September 6th through the 12th.
North Korean officials at the event said on a number of occasions that they were familiar with VOA broadcasts and that the news programs are well recognized. â€œThe first time I thought they were just trying to be polite to me,â€ Baik said, â€œbut then it was like 6 or 7 times a day they would say that VOA is very important and you can come back.â€
In addition to his reporting on the taekwon-do championships, Baik was allowed to walk around Pyongyang and ride the subway, but always accompanied by an official. He describes the city as vibrant and busy with activity.
Baik, whose reports aired live on the VOA Korean Service during the taekwon-do competition, interviewed a North Korean member of the International Olympic Committee, Chang Ung, who expressed hope the event would be a turning point in relations with the United States and could pave the way for future cultural and sports exchanges.
For more information about this release or to arrange an interview with Sungwon Baik, contact Kyle King in Washington at email@example.com. Visit www.voanews.com for more information in English or in any of our language services.
The Voice of America is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts approximately 1,500 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 123 million people. Programs are produced in 44 languages and are intended exclusively for audiences outside of the United States.
For more information, please call VOA Public Relations at (202) 203-4959, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter @VOABuzz and Facebook at InsideVOA.ï»¿
End of the official BBG/VOA press release.
Also worth reading is the actual VOA correspondent report “North Korea Kicks Open Press Doors for Taekwon-Do Championship.”
North Korea hosted the ITF Taekwon-Do World Championships this month for the first time in 19 years, opening its doors to 800 athletes from more than 80 countries, including the United States.
Listen to Sungwon Baik discuss his trip to North Korea with Sarah Williams. (available from the original link)
Hosting an international event draws unwanted attention from the outside, but it also brings in much needed foreign currency. Mobile phones offered one cash injection. Foreign visitors could rent a phone for $3.50 a day, but to call outside the country, it cost $6 per minute.
During the games, officials from the reclusive nation took the opportunity to tell the western news media they want closer ties.
â€œMore engagement is better for improving relations with North Korea and the United States,â€ said Chang Ung, a North Korean delegate to the International Olympic Committee. â€œActive engagement, coupled with visits from both sides, are good because they should help understand each other better.â€
Improving relations means improving North Koreaâ€™s image. Despite the mounting pressure of a chronic food shortage, the government says it has launched a massive campaign to make North Korea prosperous in 2012.
Next year marks a century since the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, and the government is trying to put a shine on its image with infrastructure projects.
Military parades are usually held every five years, in years ending in zero or five. But this year, outside the hotel housing the foreign press covering the Taekwon-Do championships, North Korea conducted a large military parade.
Experts believe the show of force was aimed at demonstrating North Koreaâ€™s military power ahead of next yearâ€™s centennial celebrations.
End of VOA correspondent report.
Is this the kind of Voice of America reporting U.S. taxpayers and the Congress want from within a country ruled by a totalitarian regime? BBG Watch doesn’t think so.