BBG Watch Commentary

BBC Report on Korean InsultsBBC has outdistanced all other international media outlets in reporting on and analyzing the latest events in North Korea.

BBC was ahead of the Voice of America (VOA) in reporting on the execution itself and in reporting comments from the White House spokesman Jay Carney; it also provided numerous analytical reports.

BBC’s latest report, featured on its homepage, deals with the language of propaganda used by the North Korean regime: “North Korea’s way with extreme insults,” BBC Magazine Monitor, December 13, 2013.

Radio Free Asia (RFA), which like VOA is supervised by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), does not specialize in English-language news coverage, but it offered on its English website a news report and an earlier excellent analysis. Substantive RFA coverage is done by its language services.

The Voice of America English Service has done a better job of reporting on North Korea than it did initially in reporting on massive anti-government protests in Ukraine. While the VOA Ukrainian Service provided excellent coverage on events in Ukraine, the VOA English website did very poorly. It was often late and superficial and sometimes failed to report on important U.S. reactions. It also relied on Reuters rather than provide reporting by its own correspondents or in collaboration with the VOA Ukrainian Service.

This kind of collaboration between the VOA Central English Newsroom and VOA language services generally does not work well due to a bad concept, poor management and severe shortages of personnel and resources on both sides.

But in the case of North Korea, the VOA Newsroom appears to have made a special effort following the criticism of its performance in reporting on the protests in Ukraine. Still, the latest VOA report on North Korea shows only two related news stories compared to six to eight news stories on North Korea offered by BBC on its homepage alone during the last 12 hours. The main BBC report on North Korea showed 765 Facebook “Likes” at 5PM ET Friday compared to only 17 Facebook “Likes/Shares” for the two latest VOA reports.

An earlier VOA report by its correspondent in Seoul Daniel Schearf, “N. Korean Leader’s Uncle Executed, VOA,” showed 96 Facebook “Likes” at 5PM ET — a rather high number for the VOA English website these days.

RT (Russia Today) was ahead of VOA English News in reporting on the execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle. Its report, “North Korea executes Kim Jong-un’s powerful uncle over ‘treason’,” RT, December 12, 2013. Its report shows over 5,000 Facebook “Likes” as of 5PM ET.

No international media outlet, however, has put out a more comprehensive report than this one by BBC: “North Korean purge of leader’s uncle sparks stability fears,” BBC, December 13, 2013.

Here is the latest VOA report on North Korea:

Cautious Reaction to North Korea Execution, VOA

VOA News

December 13, 2013

South Korea has held an emergency national security meeting following news that North Korea has executed the uncle of leader Kim Jong Un, who until recently was seen as one of Kim’s chief advisers.

Seoul says it is watching the events with concern and will work closely on the issue with allies and related governments.

The North’s official news agency says Jang Song Thaek was put to death Thursday after facing a special military tribunal.

The United States said it could not immediately verify Jang’s execution, but had no reason to doubt it. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the execution was another example of the “extreme brutality” of the North Korean regime, but declined to speculate on the motivations behind it.

“What it is indicative of, however, is the values of the regime, their low regard for human life, and what is probably the worst human rights record in the world, and that’s saying something,” Carney said.

Mitchell Reiss, president of Washington College and former director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, thinks Jang’s relationship with Kim Jong Un was overrated by many outside of North Korea.

“I think that his role as an adviser and guide to the young Kim was probably overstated from the beginning based on wishful thinking, particularly by the Chinese,” Reiss said.

China has reacted to the news by saying it is North Korea’s internal affair.

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former assistant secretary of defense, said the execution could force China to recalculate its relations with Pyongyang.

“I think it is much more an internal struggle and says very little about South Korea or China,” Korb said. “In many ways I think it will move China to be much more cautious in whatever aid or help they give them because they’re not quite sure what this young ruler will do.”

China’s ties with North Korea have been strained since North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test earlier this year. But Beijing remains Pyongyang’s most important ally.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA’s Korean service.