Moral judgment notwithstanding, Dan Damon’s coverage of the death of Kim Jong il is an exercise in negative reporting. Interviewing a photographer who travelled widely in the DPRK, Damon accused him of being ‘besotted’ by what he saw as the poor man, who had a more critical appreciation of his time in the DPRK, attempted to give a more nuanced view.
Speaking to a prominent Russian Orientalist from the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Damon cut him off when the scholar offered a different interpretation of the US ROK strategy of regime change in North Korea. A curt thank you very much, and on to the cartoonish view from Seoul or the US on the axis of evil state in Pyongyang.
In other words, Kim Jong il, bad, South Korea and the US good!
Although the BBC marshaled a small army of analysts, writers, talking heads, diplomats, and the like, the major key was to highlight the ignorance of what the West and its extensive network of spies do not know of what’s really going on in the DPRK. Listeners are treated to the hoary scenarios of nuclear destruction, threat of advanced rocketry raining down on the innocent and unsuspected neighours of North Korea. The script echoes the B Films Hollywood churns out endlessly with an end of the world denouement. And that is not from today: consider that gem of Cold War cinema ‘the Manchurian Candidate’, not the remake but the original with Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury, for a quick study in the perfidious nature of North Koreans.
Kim Jong il was a more complex leader and he did not wear the mantle of leadership lightly. He worked diligently for his people who had suffered the crushing burdens of rolling back US UN led forces during the Korean War; are living under an US led embargo for the last 61 years of a war which has to end yet by the signing of a peace treaty; and are the object of a vindictive US and ROK seeking nothing short of regime change in North Korea and the regime complete destruction.
It is to his credit that he was able, despite bad weather which destroyed crops and deaf appeals to agriculturally rich countries for food aid to feed starving North Koreans, to ‘outwit’ his ‘enemies’. Were it not for the utter idiocy of George W. Bush, the DPRK would not have been forced to explode a nuclear device. Were it not for the unfulfilled promises of the Clinton administration to help build light water nuclear reactors to modernise North Korea’s power grid so that economic modernisation as the North Koreans see it to progress, the DPRK would not be forced into a corner as its opponents see it.
Kim Jong il had always held his hand out for negotiations without preconditions. But the US, say, did everything it could not to talk to him directly; instead US administrations hid behind the veil of collective discussions in Beijing that from the get go proved that they would lead to nothing but stalemate.
As for the reaction of the man on the street, the BBC chose to broadcast two voices in Seoul: both saying the same thing and fueling the doomsday book of Armageddon that the DPRK would visit on the ‘weaker’ ROK. Ain’t that a kick in the head?
Damon is a writer in residence at the BBC, so it is not impossible that he wrote much of the misleading info during his time slot on BBC radio.