Two news reports from North Korea, two vastly different accounts. One of the reports, North Korea Kicks Open Press Doors for Taekwon-Do Championship, was produced by the Voice of America (VOA) and paid for by American taxpayers. The agency in charge of VOA — the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) — promoted the report in a press release, VOA Reporter Gets Rare Glimpse of Life in North Korea, which describes Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, as “vibrant and busy with activity.”
The other report, Hunger crisis grips North Korea as food runs short, was produced by Reuters and can be viewed on the msnbc.com website.
The Reuters report begins with this description: “In a pediatric hospital in North Korea’s most productive farming province, children lay two to a bed. All showed signs of severe malnutrition: skin infections, patchy hair, listless apathy.”
The VOA report mentions food shortages only in passing:
“Improving relations means improving North Korea’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.”
The report includes a number of images showing affluent-looking North Korean children and well-stocked shops and modern fast food restaurants in Pyongyang.
But the highlight of the VOA report is this video:
Link to the video on YouTube.
The report on MSNBC has this video:
Try this link if you can’t see the MSNBC video from North Korea.
These two reports present vastly different accounts of life in North Korea, writes BBG Watch. International media experts tell BBG Watch that several years ago the Broadcasting Board of Governors changed the focus of U.S. government-funded broadcasts from hard-hitting exposes of repression and corruption in countries without free media to a more nuanced approach designed to appeal to a broader audience and help with local placement of programs if at all possible. The BBG fired many experienced journalists at VOA and replaced them with poorly-trained private contractors.
Critics have said that in many cases the BBG programming and marketing strategy has led to a near total diversion from the original mission of U.S. international broadcasting to the point that private media outlets, especially online media, offer a far more accurate and comprehensive news coverage of countries like China, Russia, and North Korea. Unfortunately, private media outlets usually have no broadcasting capabilities, especially in languages other than English, while at the same time the BBG has been reducing or eliminating radio and TV broadcasts to these countries.
BBG Watch also has this reference to CUSIB: A recently formed nonprofit NGO, the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB), has taken upon itself the task of advocating for the restoration of media freedom and human rights focus at the Broadcasting Board of Governors.