Client Number Nine Leaves the Eighth Floor

Until last week, the Associated Press and the North Korean regime had co-sponsored a photo exhibition in New York to commemorate the lives and legacies of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. The exhibition appears to have been one of North Korea’s demands of the AP, part of a deal in which the AP secured permission to open a bureau in Pyongyang. I had previously posted some samples of the exhibition here and here, confirming that the photos exhibited by both the AP and the official Korea Central “News” Agency delivered the regime’s controlled propaganda message and nothing more, and showed us nothing new, unique, or newsworthy about North Korea. The North Koreans have been touting this as a great propaganda triumph, and for once, they’re telling the truth, mostly:

Pyongyang, April 10 (KCNA) — KCNA-AP joint photo exhibition “Window on North Korea” is going on amid great interest. It was opened in New York in mid March to mark the 100th anniversary of President Kim Il Sung’s birth. Lots of media around the world including those in the U.S. introduced the photo exhibition since its opening.

… if not always quite comfortably.

The New York Times in its website said the photo of family members of the leader of the DPRK is very impressive. Radio Tokyo also introduced the joint photo exhibition in its website, saying that photos of new leader of the DPRK Kim Jong Un are also on the view. Ronda Hauben, reporter at UN, posted on a website an article saying that the photo exhibition displays photos documenting daily life, important events and cultural achievements of the DPRK.

KCNA is probably talking about the same blog post I linked here. In fact, Hauben is the U.N. correspondent for a far-left German newspaper, occasional contributor to OhMyNews, a supporter of pretty much all that North Korean regime demands, and quite possibly clinically insane. She sometimes works at the U.N., but she does not work for the U.N. Just so we’re clear.

Since its opening the exhibition has been introduced by the ABC News of the U.S., websites News Tribune, Bradenton Herald, Huff Post, Monterey County The Herald, Local News, Ventura County Star and Deseret News, China News Service, ITAR-TASS of Russia, websites of Poland, Germany, Japan and other countries and regions. They gave special write-ups on the exhibition including photos of smiling Kim Il Sung and general secretary Kim Jong Il and other photos.

The exhibition is a clear proof of broad understanding and sympathy of the world progressives with dignified Kim Il Sung’s Korea, Songun Korea. The exhibition goes on.

I had feared that the exhibition would close before any OFK reader answered my call for a first-hand report. Fortunately, I’ve now received a first-hand account and a large collection of photographs from an anonymous OFK reader, who went to the 8th Floor Gallery and told us what he found there:

I counted 76 pictures, of which 41 were from the KCNA and 35 from the AP.  The KCNA pictures were propaganda as you have described.  But so were the AP photos:  they were calculated to depict daily life in North Korea as wholesome and sweet.

I was particularly interested in the captions.  Here the tendentiousness was striking:  one propaganda image showed a throng of soldiers brandishing automatic rifles and a few flags (KCNA 19).  The caption was “Soldiers wave flags.”  There were several references to sanctions and the scaling back of “economic cooperation” in the context of visually appealing activities which had thus been brought to an end (e.g., KCNA 16) there was, of course, no hint as to what might have motivated the sanctions.  Nuclear weapons went as unmentioned as the soldiers’ AK-47s.  As you have pointed out, the children are all happy, well-fed, and frequently are shown being well cared for by agents of the State.  Kim Dae-jung is described with evident warmth (KCNA 22), Jimmy Carter somewhat less so.  Of course the KCNA photos are dominated by the leaders, or people cheering the leaders, or people mourning the leaders when they have died.

Oddly, at one end of the gallery was a small room behind two glass doors.  Three Caucasians were meditating cross-legged on Zen cushions.  I asked the receptionist about that; she said vaguely that it was some kind of yoga class.

My photos are of poor quality, but they will tell you something.  Where the caption came out very blurry, I have typed it into an .rtf file, but except for possibly misspelling some of the blurred Korean names I have not edited anything.  [....]

I have to say that the AP deserves all the obloquy you have heaped on them, and more.  I don’t see how the executives who decided to lend the organization’s name to this exhibit — and of course to forge its relationship with KCNA — can have any self-respect whatsoever.

No journalist would actually go to the 8th Floor Gallery to cover this contemptible propaganda show for a genocidal regime, so ordinary citizens are reduced to banding together to publish samizdat reports on blogs with an audience of thousands.  Now, you may think that the AP made Kim Il Sung its own Client Number Nine, or you might argue that these compromises are worth their price because of all the new information we’ll learn because of them. At least, you could have argued that until last week, when a stampede of U.S.-based reporters trampled right over the AP’s Pyongyang correspondent, Jean H. Lee, on its way to the launch pad. But by the time the countdown finished, those reporters had been sequestered in a hotel in Pyongyang, reading the tweets of their colleagues in Washington to their North Korean minders. So much for opening up North Korea to the world.

I’ve been waiting for someone with more circulation than a blogger to ask these questions, but don’t hold your breath. But then, that’s why you need me. Many thanks to my anonymous reader for the pictures that follow below the fold.

A woman carries a stuffed animal in central Pyongyang on February 26, 2008. AP Photo, David Guttenfelder

Koreans enjoy traditional folk dancing at a Pyongyang city square on October 10, 2011 to celebrate the 66th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party. AP Photo, David Guttenfelder

Nurses weigh young boys at Munsu Nursery No. 1 in Pyongyang’s Taedonggang district in June 2006. The KCNA caption: “Children enjoying good health under the advantageous nursing system.” KCNA Photo

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President Kim Il Sung with schoolchildren from Japan’s ethnic Korean community who were visiting the DPRK in August 1972. For years, ethnic Koreans born and raised in Japan sailed regularly to the DPRK port city of Wonsan, but those journeys came to a halt in 2006 as part of Japanese sanctions. KCNA Photo

Koreans cheer their leader, Kim Jong Il, at a rally at Kim Il Sung Square in the capital in October 2000 as they mark the 55th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea. KCNA Photo

The late DPRK leader Kim Jong Il, right, exchanges words with his son and successor, Kim Jong Un, in July 2011, after watching the performance of a drama called “We Will Recollect Today.” According to KCNA, the play “gives a truthful artistic depiction of the struggle of the people in a mountainous county to carry through the party’s policy on building minor power stations despite difficulties and trials.” KCNA Photo

Children on an outing in Pyongyang’s Tongdaewon District in October 2005. The district is home to a sports school known for producing top DPRK athletes. KCNA Photo

Residents of Pyongyang’s Central District in 1953 after the end of the Korean War, better known in the North as the “Fatherland Liberation War.” The three-year conflict ended in an armistice, with a Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas. The KCNA caption: “People turning out in rehabilitation and construction, after winning the Fatherland Liberation War.” KCNA Photo

For more information about life in North Korea as the AP won’t cover it, I recommend this report and this one. And if you happen to be a member of or donor to Human Rights Watch, ask them why a member of their Board of Directors hosted this exhibition.

Update: In this interview, the AP denies relaying the regime’s propaganda or submitting to censorship. It admits that its reporters can’t travel freely outside Pyongyang, implying in the process that it has the run of Pyongyang, and the ability to speak to ordinary North Korean citizens outside the presence of government minders. Those minders? Why, those aren’t minders, those are journalists, silly. The worst part of this interview comes at the very beginning, when it reads an excerpt from a story by an AP reporter who isn’t based in Pyongyang, thus suggesting that this is representative of the work of the AP’s new bureau there. And of course, there’s no mention at all of this exhibit. This is what is known as professional courtesy — reporters can’t ask tough questions of other reporters.

3 comments

  1. Fred says:

    It might be possible to get the Columbia Journalism Review interested in this.

  2. Rodong Sinmun has been working overtime lately with photo galleries. This one of folks at the exhibition you describe was apparently released on April 11, though it just turned up for me today:

    http://www.rodong.rep.kp/InterKo/index.php?strPageID=SF01_02_02&newsID=2012-04-11-0048

    Of course, if you’ve had enough of New Yorkers staring at pictures of the Tudan Duck Farm as if the photos were Guggenheim material (unintentional postmodernism?) this one is even more curious:

    http://www.rodong.rep.kp/InterKo/index.php?strPageID=SF01_02_02&newsID=2012-04-12-0070

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