Friday, 30 December 2011

Similarities between the funeral of Kim Jung Il and the funeral of Princess Diana: Exchange with ITN's Angus Walker

Dear Angus,

You keep using the words "powerful propaganda" to describe the recent scenes in North Korea. In contrast, ITV News always describes the royal wedding and other ostentatious displays of power and wealth that British people have to endure as "magnificent".

Please can you explain the reason for this anomaly?

I look forward to your reply.

Best wishes,
Tony Shenton.
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Dear Tony


I raised similar points with a News Editor on Wednesday. After all perhaps there are parallels to be drawn between any grand scale state event in any country. Could we not see some similarities between the funeral of Kim Jung Il and the funeral of Princess Diana?

The words I used '..powerful propaganda..', actually I only used those words together once in five days of reporting on the death of Kim Jung Il, were chosen deliberately as was the rest of my script.

The reason I used the word propaganda is because propaganda is the use of images or words to promote a particular political cause often deliberately excluding facts or images which may undermine that political movement. In this case, the new leader is untried, untested and under thirty. He has had little time to prepare for power and has been chosen not by free choice in a secret ballot but by interests of the elite of a country and because of his birth. That was not mentioned by State TV at all.

The reason I used the word powerful was because there were roughly 1 million people on parade in the central square of Pyongyang, that's a powerful image and one calculated to provide the instant visual message that the armed forces back the new young leader. I have stood in that square and watched a parade to celebrate 65 years of the Worker's party of the DPRK in October 2010, it is huge and it is impressive when it is full of soldiers and when the ranks march past it is powerful. I was using the word powerful in the same way I would use impressive but it was powerful because the square was packed with soldiers; who in North Korea provide the power behind the throne. The Military backs the political leaders.

Note that Kim Jung Il's coffin was draped with the flag of the Worker's Party of the DPRK. The national symbol on the flag is a hammer, a hoe and a pen. The pen is there because Kim and his father before him knew the power of the pen. Especially when the strength of the leadership relies on a people accepting their leadership not because of their abilities but because of their intent to rule. Therefore all images in North Korea are designed to promote the leaders of the country. Every billboard, every newspaper, every TV news bulletin contains images of Kim Jung Il, his father and now that use of of the media will promote his son. There is no alternative, no free press, no internet, no free art culture or satire.

There was no independent commentary on the funeral, as there would be during any state funeral or event in the UK. No way of questioning the media, unless you wanted to risk arrest, as there is in the UK. No way of ignoring the peer pressure to mourn, you might be denounced to the state if you don't appear sad enough. No way of simply switching off and choosing to ignore the event as there would be in the UK. These reasons draw definite differences between the events in Pyongyang and state events in the UK.

So yesterday I was reflecting the Party's use of the image to promote its cause at the exclusion of all other messages and media. That surely must be the definition of propaganda.

Yours Sincerely,
Angus Walker
ITV News China Correspondent
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Dear Angus,

Thanks for taking the time to reply, I really appreciate it.


Yes, I think we can see striking similarities between the funeral of Kim Jung I1 and the funeral of Princess Diana. Why did you choose not to make this important point in your reports? What did the News Editor say?

Meaning is relational and the following binary oppositions can be found in your reports:

1. We are rational - they are fanatical.

2. We have pomp and circumstance - they have powerful propaganda.

3. Our soldiers are heroes - their soldiers are brainwashed.

4. Our leader is a benevolent statesman - their leader is an evil dictator.

5. We have a free press - they have censorship.

You say: "There was no independent commentary on the funeral, as there would be during any state funeral or event in the UK".

In reality, as David Cromwell and David Edwards point out: "These "national and state occasions" are, of course, unashamedly patriotic events - journalists commenting on them must be willing to set aside criticism and scepticism in respectful deference to custom, royalty and national pride" ('Media Alert: The Mythology of Mistakes', 05/10/04).

For example, Tom Bradby and Julie Etchingham et al did not express any outrage about the fact that anti-monarchy protesters were banned from the recent royal wedding by police. On the contrary, their coverage remained completely obsequious. Why?

I hope you can find the time to reply.

Best wishes,
Tony.
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Dear Tony


Thanks for your reply.

I think that News reports are subjective and there will be millions of individual interpretations of a news bulletin depending on the individual personal life experience and views.

For example, often any report we do on Israelis/Palestinians will result on complaints, as long as those complaints are roughly fifty percent saying we are showing bias to the Israelis and half suggesting we are showing bias to the Palestinians then we are probably doing our job.

Our job as broadcasters is to cover events with due impartiality.

There was no need to draw comparisons with any other state event. My report was not intending to do that. I was focussing, reflecting and reporting on events in Pyongyang. It was clearly a grand scale state event, that was obvious and in my view didn't need saying.

In my discussion with the News Editor we both agreed direct, note direct, comparisons with the funeral of Diana cannot be made as North Korea and the UK are very different states plus Diana was not the leader of the country. She had no power in the state structure. You could say that broadly speaking all state funerals are the same to some extent however I was not setting out to do a broad feature on state funerals. I had a more focussed task in hand.

Perhaps a broader feature on state funerals might be an idea you may suggest to my news editors.

The focus for me in the report yesterday was to reflect what message this State was trying to convey given that it banned all foreign and independent reporters. We are left trying to decipher what the choreography of large scale parades in North Korea actually mean because the state uses them as its way of sending signals to the rest of the world as well as to its own people. Many of whom would not have heard of Kim Jung Un before the end of last year. Again this was propaganda in the true sense of the word.

Lets go through the points you make:

1. We are rational - they are fanatical. - not something I said, this is your personal interpretation.

2. We have pomp and circumstance - they have powerful propaganda. True, in that we have alternative media outlets.

3. Our soldiers are heroes - their soldiers are brainwashed. Didn't say that or draw that comparison. I would never say that as it's not accurate. Again this is your interpretation which you are entitled to.

4. Our leader is a benevolent statesman - their leader is an evil dictator. Again didn't say that, nor would I. didn't use the word evil and never would. This is your interpretation.

5. We have a free press - they have censorship. True.

Bear in mind the only pictures we had access to was from State TV. Reporting was restricted to the showcase capital where only the party faithful are permitted to live and enjoy benefits that millions of other North Koreans are denied because of a failed economy. See World Food Programme reports for more details on the three and a half million facing food shortages and the thousands of children suffering advanced malnutrition. See Amnesty International for details on an estimated 300,000 in prison camps.

Kind Regards,
Angus Walker
ITV News China Correspondent
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Thanks again Angus,


The example you give is a prime example of the fallacy known as argumentum ad temperantiam. If you reported that 2+2=6 would it mean that you must be doing your job if you received 50 complaints stating that 2+2=5 and 50 from people stating that 2+2=4?

I agree that you should cover important events such as the conflict in the Middle East with due impartially. Unfortunately, this never happens - as Greg Philo et al have unequivocally revealed in their scholarly book, Bad News From Israel. Your coverage of the attacks on Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya also fails to adhere to your stated commitment to balance and impartiality. You simply take for granted that our leaders are sincerely trying to achieve their proclaimed noble goals.

Concomitantly, the reasons you give for choosing not to draw a comparison are rather weak. As I explained in my previous email, British media outlets are amazingly obsequious when covering state occasions. Surely you can acknowledge that this has a powerful impact on public opinion.

Best wishes,
Tony

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