Pueblo anniversary: How BBG touted North Korean propaganda in a bizarre VOA report

BBG Watch Commentary

January 23rd was the 50th anniversary of the Pueblo incident. As recalled in an excellent scholarly article, “‘We will fight them to the last man’: North Korea and the USS Pueblo” posted in the Wilson Center blog and written by Sergey Radchenko, Professor of International Relations at Cardiff University, “On January 23, 1968, the North Koreans captured the US intelligence-gathering ship Pueblo, killing one crew member and taking 82 prisoner. Interrogated and tortured by their captors, the crew were held in North Korea for 11 months before being freed in December 1968.”

The current crisis between the United States and North Korea also brings into focus multiple failures of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of the equally failing Voice of America (VOA), which in 2011 released one of the most bizarre video reports from North Korea describing Pyongyang as a “vibrant city” and repeating at length North Korean propaganda about the Pueblo incident with hardly any balance or counter. The Broadcasting Board of Governors then touted the VOA report in an even more bizarre press release.

Nothing much has changed at the BBG and the VOA since 2011. If anything, both the agency and VOA have become more dysfunctional after being described in 2013 by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as “practically defunct.”

Employee morale at the BBG, as measured by the OPM is even worse now compared to other federal agencies than it was before.

In December 2017 and January 2018, VOA was posting lengthy excerpts from the Iranian regime’s propaganda and disinformation drawing the ire of Iranian protesters and Iranian Americans as the Voice of America director Amanda Bennett and her boss BBG CEO John Lansing, both of them Obama administration appointees, were bragging what a great job VOA and BBG were doing.

Bennett had joined VOA in 2016, before the 2011 VOA report with North Korean propaganda, but some of the BBG and VOA managers under whose watch the North Korean report was produced are now among her closest advisors. Lansing had joined the agency in 2015.

For an example of how VOA should have reported on the Pueblo incident in its 2011 report and how VOA content used to look like before the BBG was created and some of the recent VOA directors were hired, read Sergey Radchenko’s article in the Wilson Center blog. It provides a good historical background for understanding the behavior of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that may be less irrational than some think. VOA used to provide such sophisticated analyses in the past, but it no longer does. Worse yet, VOA now often repeats the propaganda of North Korean or Iranian dictators and calls it “unbiased” reporting.

‘We will fight them to the last man’: North Korea and the USS Pueblo.” By Sergey Radchenko, Sources and Methods Blog, Wilson Center, January 23, 2018.

 
 
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BBG WATCH

 

VOA and North Korea: Criticism of 2011 press release and VOA video describing Pyongyang as ‘vibrant city’

 

December 13, 2013

 
BBG Watch Commentary

With a new focus on North Korea following the execution of a once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, we recall our earlier criticism of top VOA executives for their news handling policies and naive views of repressive regimes. A VOA executive who was so impressed with the VOA video describing Pyongyang as a “vibrant city” that he issued a press release is still in charge of planning VOA news coverage of North Korea and Ukraine.

VOA and North Korea: Criticism of 2011 press release and VOA video describing Pyongyang as a vibrant city

VOAs-Video-from-North-KoreaBBG Watch, an independent website run by former and current Broadcasting Board of Governors employees, wonders who signed off on the press release on the BBG official website, BBG.gov, quoting a Voice of America journalist 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,” says BBG Watch. 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, says BBG Watch.
 

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 ends with a saleswoman dancing for the VOA reporter in a modern-looking store in Pyongyang.

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The original link to the BBG press release, “VOA Reporter Gets Rare Glimpse of Life in North Korea” (https://www.bbg.gov/pressroom/press-releases/VOA_Reporter_Gets_Rare_Glimpse_of_Life_in_North_Korea.html) no longer works. The link was used by NGOs and media freedom activists who have criticized VOA programs to North Korea in the last several years.

 

BBG North Korea Press Release Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 1:00 PM EDT

 

We were able to trace down the BBG press release under a different link (https://www.bbg.gov/1970/01/01/dddd/) and noticed that the date of the BBG press release was changed to January 1, 1970.

 

BBG North Korea Press Release Date Changed to Jan. 1, 1970

 

The featured image shows a North Korean saleswoman dancing for the Voice of America (VOA) Korean Service reporter in a well-stocked shop in the capital Pyongyang described in the 2011 VOA report as a “city vibrant and busy with activity.” As late as June 2017, VOA reports were touting benefits of U.S. engagement and trade with North Korea.

 
 
 

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