The Mystery That is North Korea

North Korea today constitutes one of the most isolated countries in the world. Precious little information is known about the regime; people do not come in, people do not come out. Until recently, there was only one known photo of Kim Jong-un, the purported successor to Kim Jong-il – and even today the most recent photo of the man is decades old.

North Korea is also supposedly a living hellhole. To live in North Korea is to reside in one of the poorest countries in the world. North Koreans are raised to believe that Kim Jong-il is literally a God. They live in perpetual fear of the secret police. Millions are starving from the failed economic policies of the authoritarian government.

Wait a second – if North Korea is such a mystery, how do we know all this?

The answer is that we read this in American newspapers. There is reason, however, to carry a bit of skepticism when reading the newspaper accounts of North Korea. Think about it. Most North Korean reporters have probably never set foot in the country itself, let alone talked with an actual North Korean. They file their stories from Seoul. For research, they speak for North Korean “experts” who likewise have never been in the country. If lucky, they might meet with a few exiles – but the very nature of an exile may lead to distorted information, as the United States unfortunately found out with Iraqi exiles.  One enterprising journalist from the Economist literally went to the North Korean-Chinese border and spent several hours waving at North Korean farmers (who did not wave back), before writing a 2,900-word special report on the country in Seoul.

So reporters turn to previous stories about North Korea, written by similarly clueless journalists. These accounts contain the same narrative that most of the media uses when referring to North Korea: a brainwashed populace, a ruthless and authoritarian regime, an economy in chaos, famine and deprivation. And this is what ends up on said reporter’s brand-new story – and thus on the newspapers Americans read and televisions Americans watch.

All this is not to defend North Korea, but rather to say that much of the news reported about it may not be fully sound. Hard evidence does exist of North Korean poverty; satellite pictures, for instance, indicate that much of the countryside lacks electricity (although before the Soviet Union fell and its subsidies ended, this was not the case – a fact few people know). Reports of the public shaming dealt to North Korea’s World Cup team probably constitute the truth. So does analysis of the failed currency reform this winter, which ended with a government apology (!) and the execution of a scapegoated official.

But when you read yet another newspaper account of abhorrent conditions in North Korea, check out where the story was filed from. Chances are that it comes from Seoul. Take the reporting, therefore, with a grain of salt.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

The Mystery That is North Korea

North Korea today constitutes one of the most isolated countries in the world. Precious little information is known about the regime; people do not come in, people do not come out. Until recently, there was only one known photo of Kim Jong-un, the purported successor to Kim Jong-il – and even today the most recent photo of the man is decades old.

North Korea is also supposedly a living hellhole. To live in North Korea is to reside in one of the poorest countries in the world. North Koreans are raised to believe that Kim Jong-il is literally a God. They live in perpetual fear of the secret police. Millions are starving from the failed economic policies of the authoritarian government.

Wait a second – if North Korea is such a mystery, how do we know all this?

The answer is that we read this in American newspapers. There is reason, however, to carry a bit of skepticism when reading the newspaper accounts of North Korea. Think about it. Most North Korean reporters have probably never set foot in the country itself, let alone talked with an actual North Korean. They file their stories from Seoul. For research, they speak for North Korean “experts” who likewise have never been in the country. If lucky, they might meet with a few exiles – but the very nature of an exile may lead to distorted information, as the United States unfortunately found out with Iraqi exiles.  One enterprising journalist from the Economist literally went to the North Korean-Chinese border and spent several hours waving at North Korean farmers (who did not wave back), before writing a 2,900-word special report on the country in Seoul.

So reporters turn to previous stories about North Korea, written by similarly clueless journalists. These accounts contain the same narrative that most of the media uses when referring to North Korea: a brainwashed populace, a ruthless and authoritarian regime, an economy in chaos, famine and deprivation. And this is what ends up on said reporter’s brand-new story – and thus on the newspapers Americans read and televisions Americans watch.

All this is not to defend North Korea, but rather to say that much of the news reported about it may not be fully sound. Hard evidence does exist of North Korean poverty; satellite pictures, for instance, indicate that much of the countryside lacks electricity (although before the Soviet Union fell and its subsidies ended, this was not the case – a fact few people know). Reports of the public shaming dealt to North Korea’s World Cup team probably constitute the truth. So does analysis of the failed currency reform this winter, which ended with a government apology (!) and the execution of a scapegoated official.

But when you read yet another newspaper account of abhorrent conditions in North Korea, check out where the story was filed from. Chances are that it comes from Seoul. Take the reporting, therefore, with a grain of salt.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

The Dangers and Hopes for Information Tecnology

The author http://www.alternet.org/story/95126/ brilliantly describes how humans evolved to a consumer/capitalistic/patriarchical society which we delude ourselves into believing is sustainable. He omitted a very significant revolution, information, which as the others, accelerated our pace towards ultimate doom unless we escape our delusions.

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The News Free News World

Traditional media outlets seem surprised by the rise and influence of blogs and web-based information sources.  A recent project by my Popular Culture class demonstrates why traditional media should rather be surprised that they have any influence or readers left.  In a simple study by my students of Newspapers and Television News the overwhelming conclusion was that there is almost no news of any kind in print or on television.  Web-media is growing in influence for the obvious reason that it has substantive content.
    Consider the finding of the research groups working on newspapers.  The students were divided into teams and each team was given a separate paper; New York Times, LA Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Seattle Times (my college is located outside of Seattle).  The students then went through the entire paper cutting out the news content from the pictures, ads, and general dross.  In the end, the NY and LA Times had enough actual news content to fill roughly six newspaper pages, while the Seattle papers had enough for four to five.  Hence, on any given day Americas newspapers are 90% non-news content.  And please note, we set a very low bar for the definition of news and I gave the students a great deal of latitude for including news items of only limited interest.  
    A similar project was undertaken with the evening news with one group being assigned to each of the major networks; Fox, ABC, NBC, and CBS.  On average, the evening newscasts contained three to five minutes of news per half-hour.  The most covered story on the two nights my students analyzed was an obese dog that ate doughnuts.  The longest single news item was on the two American Idol finalists.  On neither night, nor on any network, did the war in Iraq generate the most stories or the longest story.  In sum, roughly 85-90% of evening newscasts are non-news.  
    The conclusion is inescapable and disturbing.  However biased or inaccurate the news coverage may be, and my students compiled an astonishing list of factual errors, the most serious issue is the overall lack of any coverage at all.  There is, essentially, no news on the news.  The mass migration of concerned and interested citizens to web based media in this environment should come as no surprise.  Unless and until major outlets begin covering news, it seems unlikely they will recapture their influence.  More likely by far that independent web-media that offers a content rich experience will continue to grow and prosper.    

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Diaries

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