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,, 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.