Archive | January, 2013

Frequent Flyer’s Guide to North Korean Air: a Review of World’s Only One Star Airline

26 Jan

Frequent Flyer’s Guide to North Korean Air: a Review of World’s Only One Star Airline

By Nate Thayer

Air Koryo, North Korea’s official airline, is rated the world’s only one star air carrier. But it is improving. In August, Pyongyang’s promise of being global technological leaders achieved a key milestone, when the national airline announced it would offer online reservations with “convenient reservations day and night”.

The official airline of North Korea now allows international travelers to book one of their eight weekly international flights, which accommodate the global hubs between Pyongyang and Beijing, Pyongyang and Shenyang, China, or Pyongyang and Vladivostok.

Air Koryo says customers can purchase additional room for their “black box” or for their “fat”, according to the Air Koryo website, which is inexplicably down at the moment

There is a hitch though; the airline doesn’t accept credit cards, so one has to use PayPal.

Air Koryo website for revolutionary new online bookings for reservations. Unfortunately they don't accept credit cards

Air Koryo website for revolutionary new online bookings for reservations. Unfortunately they don’t accept credit cards

Air Koryo offers scheduled flights from Pyongyang to Beijing and Shenyang in China and Vladivostok in Russia.

There are a number of independent air travel rating services that rate the service. Skytrax, a company that ranks global air transport gives Air Koryo the only airline on earth a one-star rating that represents “very poor quality performance”.

AirKoryo-620x410 air-koryo-is-not-quality-approved-and-has-1-star-general-ratings-almost-across-the-board-from-skytrax.jpg air-koryos-webpage-is-part-of-the-governments-site-and-theres-not-much-you-can-do-on-it-you-have-to-call-or-email-a-hotmail-address skytrax not quality approved

Air Koryo’s website offers a one way business class fare from Pyongyang to Beijing, if you book online, of $374, which would seem prohibitive to most citizens of the isolated nation where per capita income is estimated at $1,800.

The website Terminal U, which offers “Air travel news & views” recently wrote a detailed pictorial story titled “Flying on North Korea’s national airline, Air Koryo: “The zero star airline” by “Our writer, Gunnar Garfors” who “ shares his experiences on board North Korea’s Air Koryo, where he inadvertently discovers the world’s smallest beef burger patty.”

The World's Smallest Hamburger

The World’s Smallest Hamburger

Their crack correspondent Gunner writes: “My favorite airlines are all based in Asia. It just so happens that my least favorite airline is also Asian. North Korea’s national airline, Air Koryo offers you nothing that resembles quality on its flights to or from its hub in Pyongyang – but the experience is certainly worth writing home about.”

He continues that “Strange sounds and seat configurations are all part of the experience, as well as the revolutionary-like propaganda music played before and during take-off” and offers a colorful portrait where the stewardesses “wear white gloves and uniforms that must have won fashion awards in the 60s make on board announcements in a formal manner along the lines of: ‘The beverage service is about to commence, thanks to our Dear Leader Kim Jong-il.’”

Reviewers nearly unanimously say that the flight attendants are friendly and efficient, but perfunctory. They earned a 3 star rating for Grooming and Presentation

Gunner then offers his assessment of in flight service, saying he “was given a complimentary copy of “The Pyongyang Times,” North Korea’s only English speaking newspaper. I should point out that in no other country would it be called a “newspaper.”

koryo inflight reading

He then quoted from a story on the World Cup qualifying match between North Korea and South Korea in Seoul. “The match turned into a mess of tricks and swindles. It is as clear as day that this was the product of the Lee Myung Bak [the President of South Korea] clan’s moves of confrontation with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the deliberate behavior of the dishonest forces instigated by the clan. We sternly condemn the behavior of the Lee clan, which misbehaves itself in every way in disregard of the nation and the idea of sport, as the anti-reunification and anti-national moves of confrontation with the DPRK and strongly urge the South Korean authorities to bear full responsibility and immediately apologies for the serious incident.”

he attendants pass out a propaganda paper before getting off the ground. Guess who's on the front page

Regarding the meal service, Gunner writes “You will get a tray with calories on it, but whether what’s on the tray can be called ‘food’ is debatable.”

skytrax-rates-the-food-at-1-star-for-economy-and-2-star-for-business-class-most-reviewers-say-that-its-edible-but-nothing-special

Gunner notes correctly that Air Koryo is largely banned from flying to Europe because it doesn’t meet international safety standards, but the Norwegian, whose bio says he “visits over 50 countries a year and is on a mission to visit all 198 countries in the world” and “his wildest journey so far was a trip to five countries on five continents in a single day – a world record” ends on a high note concluding “you won’t find a more unique in-flight experience anywhere else in the world.”

Flipdown TV screens with homages to Kim (Sr) (Jr) )3rd) for passenger entertainment

Flipdown TV screens with homages to Kim (Sr) (Jr) )3rd) for passenger entertainment

In August, 2011, the official state Korean Central News Agency announced that there would be a scheduled Shanghai-Pyongyang air service available on Tuesday and Friday every week, but it turned out the scheduled route was limited to “Chinese volunteers” who wanted to visit North Korea for the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.

Air Koryo operates round trip flights between Pyongyang and Beijing on Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  It operates round trip flights between Pyongyang and Shenyang on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  The flights always originate in Pyongyang and return the same day.

Terminal 2 is nothing special and get's a lot of flights to obscure places, including 2 Air Koryo flights to FNJ (Air China flies to FNJ from Terminal 2 by the way)

Business Insider magazine reported last year in a story headlined “On North Korea’s 1-Star Airline, You’ll Be Served One Sad-Looking Hamburger” that Japanese news website RocketNews24 offered a pictorial food review of Air Koryo’s service on Japanese news website and its correspondent, who was travelling economy, was served a hamburger and a cup of juice which “looks totally gross. The worst part? The burger was served cold. RocketNews24 surmises that the microwave is reserved for first-class customers only.”

screenshot via YouTube RocketNews24

RocketNews24 wrote “On our Japanese site, we run a regular column where we review the in-flight meals of airlines around the world. While we’ve yet to bring any of these to our English site, our latest review was just too good to keep to our Japanese readers. Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you the in-flight meal of North Korea’s state-owned carrier, Air Koryo. The meal under review was served to our correspondent during an economy class flight from North Korea’s Sunan International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport. The contents of the meal included a hamburger and a cup of juice – nothing more, nothing less. The hamburger was topped with 2 thin onion slices and mayonnaise and came in wrapping with Chinese writing on it, suggesting it was made in China. The juice was available in either apple or orange. Regarding the taste of the hamburger, our correspondent tells us that both the buns and hamburger patty were incredibly dry, though this may partly be due to the fact that the hamburger was served to him cold. Our guess is that the microwave is reserved for first-class passengers only.”

hamburger4

Business Insider Magazine wrote in 2011 in a story titled” “North Korea’s Air Koryo Is The Worst Airline In The World” that “there’s only one airline in the world that has been deemed horrible enough to earn a dismal 1-star rating from leading airline reviewer SkyTrax. It’s North Korea’s state-owned airline: Air Koryo.”

In the business magazines airline review it asked: “In an industry already suffering from widespread negative perception, what makes Air Koryo stand out as the very worst? Customer service, food, safety or a little bit of everything?”

They then posted photographs from recent passenger Australian biomedical engineer Mark Fahey on his flight from Beijing to Pyongyang.

It gets so bad that they have to wipe the cabin down so that droplets dont bother the passengers a process that Joseph Ferris caught on camera on his flight.

It gets so bad that they have to wipe the cabin down so that droplets dont bother the passengers a process that Joseph Ferris caught on camera on his flight.

For your refuses vomit bag

For your refuses vomit bag

The website airlinemeals.com, a service devoted to rating in flight food quality on every commercial air carrier on earth, devotes a whole section to passenger reviews of Air Koryo’s cuisine.

Route:         Beijing to Pyongyang, 2005-08-12

Flight duration:    1h 30m

Flight class:          economy

Ticket price:         n/a

Aircraft:      IL

Meal:          lunch – See the pic. No products are of any known brand or known style: it’s all ‘North Korean’ in style.

Drink:         Water approved by the Great Leader

Comments:           Large portions. The sausages did have hard parts in it (bone?).

Rating (1-10):       5 stars

koryo5meal

In another review the meals slightly improved it seems.

Route: Beijing to Pyongyang, 2005-10-01
Flight duration: 1h 30m
Flight class: economy
Ticket price: USD 332.00 (roundtrip)
Aircraft: TU-154
Meal: Lunch – Rice with chicken, potatoes and some orange sauce without much flavor. Also salad, fruit, hardboiled egg, cake, processed cold meat, and bread.
Drink: North Korean orange-like fizzy drink
Comments: This was much more fulfilling than the return flight’s offering. Quality-wise, it’s not bad relatively speaking — typical economy class airline stuff.
Rating (1-10): 7 starskoryo1

In a review a few years later the Pyongyang authorities probably were pleased in the conclusion that the food “was better than you get on any American airliner.”

Route:         Pyongyang to Beijing, 2005-10-04

Date added:          2008-05-21

Flight duration:    1h 30m

Flight class:          economy

Ticket price:         USD 332.00 (roundtrip)

Aircraft:      IL-62

Meal:          Breakfast – Some hamburger with a mystery chicken-type meat in the middle, and some overcooked lettuce, as if it had been frozen and microwaved.

Drink:         North Korean draft beer

Comments:           Doesn’t fill you up much. Still better than what you would get on any US airline, though.

Rating (1-10): 5 stars

Although a review the next year fared decidedly worse:

Route:         Beijing to Pyongyang, 2009-10-01

Date added:          2010-03-12

Flight duration:    2h 0m

Flight class:          economy

Ticket price:

Aircraft:      TU-154

Meal:          Hot lunch – mystery chicken, canned fruit, nothing special.

Drink:         I had decent bottled water

Comments:           Since this flight originated in Beijing, the food was at least identifiable. On the return flight which originated in Pyongyang, it was quite different and even more of a mystery… it was a roll with some kind of mystery pate on it

 

Air Koryo's Ilyushin Il-62

B y 2010, it appeared airline frequent flyers were getting used to bland fare:

Route:         Pyongyang to Beijing, 2009-09-10

Date added:          2010-05-08

Flight duration:    2h 0m

Flight class:          business

Ticket price:

Aircraft:      TU154

Meal:          Airkoryo.jpg Typical Korean (North) meal…

Drink:         “Orange Drink with Pulp” (their words)

Comments:           Airkoryo3.jpg – Blanched peanuts and “Orange Drink with Pulp”

On the aviation forum airliners.net, which bills itself as the wings of the web”, Gialloboy from Ireland posted on September 3, 2012 on his trip from Beijing to Pyongyang. “Woke up Tuesday morning with a rather bad hangover but managed to drag myself in the shower and ultimately into a cab to Beijing airport. Traffic was not too bad for a change and I arrived in Terminal 2 within 30 minutes. Did some last minute email (no Internet in the DPRK!) and drank some Isotonic drinks which made me feel a lot better.” The Irish lad offered copious detail for the frequent Pyongyang flyers that were to follow him. “Terminal 2 is nothing special and get’s a lot of flights to obscure places, including 2 Air Koryo flights to FNJ (Air China flies to FNJ from Terminal 2 by the way)”

koryo4

“At 11 am I made my way past security and on towards Air Koryo’s check in. They actually have a separate J checkin and I had my boarding card and lounge pass within 60 seconds. Funny thing is that Korean Air operates check in desks for their flight to Seoul in the very next row of desks! Check in desk (used for J PAX). Went past immigration and visited the lounge. Air Koryo uses the Air China lounge which is again used by Korean Air! ”

“Boarded quickly and settled into my comfy J seat. There are three rows in a 2-2 configuration; I was in row 2 and next to a quite friendly Danish businessman. We had some good conversation about his frequent trips to Pyongyang.

the-seatbelt-sign-is-old-school

Unfortunately photos are not allowed inside Air Koryo planes so all shots are “sneaked”, the Danish businessman acted as my “wingman” and kept an eye on the FAs. There had been cases of travelers made to delete all of their pictures so I was extra careful. Air Koryo J class snaps, rather stylish and nice. I have no idea why they score only 1 star on Skytrax, I thought they were rather adequate for a 2 hour flight and probably offered more comfort than some US airlines.”

but-see-all-that-smoke-its-water-vapor-coming-from-the-air-conditioning-outlets-explained-fahey-on-flickr-it-was-as-if-they-had-a-fog-machine-running-in-the-cabin

“Despite the flight being only 120 minutes we got a full meal, consisting of cold cuts and curry. Not bad at all! drinks were served also with a choice of water, soft drink and beer. Meal was followed by coffee. Note there was no milk, as everywhere in North Korea. Only powdered cream. FA consisted of a patriotic North Korean film: Thanks were paid to the Great Leader when we entered DPRK airspace and shortly after we touched down in FNJ. Surely this airport has one of the longest taxies anywhere in the world.

The TU204 at home base in FNJ”

Then the Irishman landed in Pyongyang.

1-6

“Arrivals is pretty new, the old Soviet style terminal has been bulldozed to the ground. We were in within 30 minutes and they had our mobile phonesJ.”

Busy day in FNJ!

Busy day in FNJ!

Into town and first stop Arch of Triumph: People were training for the upcoming torch parade on Kim Il Sung square

air-koryo-actually-hasnt-had-an-incident-since-2006-when-a-plane-ran-off-a-runway-and-hasnt-had-any-fatalities-since-1983

The Irishman had a few comments on the discussion board: “Quoting theobcman (Reply 5):

“Also when you say they took your mobile phones at the airport, then what happens? Do they keep them until your return flight?”

He replied “You get the phone back when you are about to leave the country.”

Another intrepid traveler inquired “Is milk is not available in DPRK at all?”

139287-north-korea-s-flagship-airline-air-koryo-to-pyongyang

Our Celtic correspondent helpfully explained “Not really, if anything else most Asians are lactose intolerant so there is not much of a demand for milk to begin with. Second dairy is very resource intensive to make, something the DPRK does not have a lot of.”

Has Kim Jong Un Had Plastic Surgery? China Says: No Comment: Pyongyang erupts following reports circulating in Chinese media

24 Jan

Has Kim Jong Un Had Plastic Surgery? China Says: No Comment

Pyongyang erupts following reports circulating in Chinese media
Kim Il Sung and his grandson, current leader Kim Jong-un. Carefully orchestrated propaganda strategies to evoke similarities are alleged to include plastic surgery, which Pyongyang vehemently denies

Kim Il Sung (R) and his grandson, current leader Kim Jong-un (L). Carefully orchestrated propaganda strategies to evoke similarities are alleged to include plastic surgery, which Pyongyang vehemently denies

by Nate Thayer , January 24, 2013
NKNews.org

In the wake of North Korean state media Thursday issuing vitriolic objections of the “sordid hackwork of rubbish media” who alleged their young dictator underwent plastic surgery to look like his grandfather, Chinese government censors have ordered Chinese media to “not report, comment on, or redistribute stories about the personal lives of North Korean leaders (such as face-lifts).”

North Korea erupted after months of silence over repeated news reports that Kim Jong Un had undergone plastic surgery to look like his grandfather Kim Il Sung, with official media denouncing “sordid” and “false reports… released by enemies… which the party, state, army and people can never tolerate.”

But what seemed to set Pyongyang off in a particularly virulent tizzy was not months of speculative South Korean rumor suggesting the young Kim had undergone plastic surgery, but rather a Chinese report posted last week by Shenzhen TV, which cited a diplomatic source who had spoken to a North Korean official while on a private visit to Pyongyang and confirmed the plastic surgery rumors.

KCNA referenced the Chinese report today, “Those hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the nation should not expect any mercy or leniency.” And reacting to a diplomatic demarche from Pyongyang to Beijing, China’s central propaganda authorities subsequently issued a directive to their journalists on January 24 reading:

Central Propaganda Department: Strictly observe propaganda and reporting regulations concerning foreign affairs. Do not report, comment on, or redistribute stories about the personal lives of North Korean leaders (such as face-lifts).

The previous day, on January 23, the provincial government state censors of Guangdong province issued another directive saying:

Guangdong Propaganda Department: North Korea objects to Shenzhen Satellite TV’s report that Kim Jong-un had a face-lift. Do not report this incident, including Xinhua’s clarification. (January 23, 2013)

What was particularly noteworthy was that the Chinese censors had specifically ordered their media to censor their country’s own state media report from Xinhua in a bid to prevent Chinese citizens from reading their own governments official propaganda, which had in this case been written for consumption by a foreign audience.

It is not unusual for both North Korean and Chinese state media to issue reports only in foreign languages and not in native Korean or Chinese, targeting and limiting the audience who is able to access it.

The January 24 Chinese censor’s directive reference to “Strictly observe propaganda and reporting regulations concerning foreign affairs” comes on the same day that Pyongyang released a blistering rejection of a new UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions and condemning the north for its December rocket launch.

That statement issued today by the supreme power body of the regime, the National Defense Commission (NDC), vowed that North Korea would launch  “a variety of satellites and long-range rockets which will be launched…one after another and a nuclear test of higher level” in an “upcoming all-out action.” The NDC went on to dismiss “all the illegal resolutions adopted by the “United Nations Security Council.

The NDC statement is significant as is targets Beijing, as much as the U.S. or ROK.

“The keynote of the resolution was worked out through backstage dealing with the U.S. as a main player and it was adopted at the UNSC with blind hand-raising by its member nations,” said KCNA in a clear reference to Pyongyang’s only significant ally, Beijing.  “This shows, at the same time, that those big countries, which are obliged to take the lead in building a fair world order, are abandoning without hesitation even elementary principle, under the influence of the U.S. arbitrary and high-handed practices, failing to come to their senses.”

Regarding the report on Kim Jong Un’s plastic surgery, apparently Pyongyang communicated their grievances to Beijing and China’s ruling party instructed the official party media organ, Xinhua, to debunk the stories.  As such, this Tuesday Xinhua issued a report that cited two of its correspondents in Pyongyang who denied the plastic surgery rumors.

The rumours of Kim Jong Un having a face lift have been fed by Pyongyang’s propaganda apparatus for months who have carefully crafted a meticulous written and pictorial narrative trying to evoke similarities between Kim Jong Un and his grandfather, including through his dress, haircut, gestures and public appearances.

Following the new censorship directive, Xinhua said that “there have been no news reports in North Korea about Kim Jong Un’s plastic surgery” and that there was “nothing suspicious” about Kim resembling his grandfather since they carry the same genes. While Kim tries to dress, walk and smile like his grandfather, together this just aims to give the impression that he “holds the people dear,” Xinhua reported.

The official Chinese censorship directives were first reported by China Digital Times, a Berkeley California based website that monitors Chinese censorship of news reports. “Chinese state media does make a distinction for news coverage intended for domestic consumption,” said Anne Henochowicz, translation coordinator for China Digital Times. Chinese journalists and bloggers often refer to these official censorship instructions as “Directives from the Ministry of Truth.”

The Chinese censorship comes at a particularly sensitive time due to internal Chinese press freedom issues and relations between Pyongyang and Beijing.

The order by Beijing to all media and bloggers to “refrain from writing on the personal lives of North Korean leaders” also came just two days after Beijing took an unusually adversarial position against Pyongyang by signing the unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution that imposed new sanctions on North Korea for their December launch of a long range ballistic rocket.

Aside from the UNSC resolution, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said China does not support North Korea’s nuclear weapons program at a meeting with a delegation sent by South Korea’s President-elect to Beijing. “I believe South Korea under Park’s leadership will achieve its growth targets of the new era,” Yang was quoted by the official South Korean news agency, Yonhap, as saying during a meeting with the delegation. “South Korea is very important to China, and our strategic relations will develop into a new stage and take a big leap down the road.”

For those with an unhealthy need for detail, here is the longer version submitted before legitimate length and style requirements required editing and cutbacks:

China issues Censorship Order on North Korea Reporting After Pyongyang Erupts at “sordid hackwork by rubbish media”

Chinese Official Directive Orders Press “not report, comment on, or redistribute stories about the personal lives of North Korean leaders (such as face-lifts)”

By Nate Thayer

In the wake of North Korean state media issuing Thursday particularly vitriolic objections of the “sordid hackwork of rubbish media” who have alleged their young dictator has undergone plastic surgery to look like his grandfather, Chinese government censors have ordered Chinese media to “not report, comment on, or redistribute stories about the personal lives of North Korean leaders (such as face-lifts).”

North Korea has erupted after months of silence over repeated news reports that Kim Jong-Un had plastic surgery to look like his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, with official media denouncing ”sordid” and “false reports… released by enemies is a hideous criminal act which the party, state, army and people can never tolerate,” said Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday, calling it “sordid hackwork by rubbish media.”

But what seemed to set Pyongyang off in a particularly virulent tizzy was not months of speculative South Korean news reports suggesting the young Kim had undergone plastic surgery, but rather a Chinese report last week by China’s Shenzhen TV who cited a diplomatic source who, on a private visit to Pyongyang, had spoken to a North Korean official who confirmed the plastic surgery rumours. KCNA referenced the Chinese report,

“Those hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the nation should not expect any mercy or leniency,” said the KCNA.

Apparently reacting to a diplomatic demarche from Pyongyang to Beijing, the Beijing central authorities issued a directive January 24 reading: “Central Propaganda Department: Strictly observe propaganda and reporting regulations concerning foreign affairs. Do not report, comment on, or redistribute stories about the personal lives of North Korean leaders (such as face-lifts).”

中宣部:严格遵守有关涉外宣传报道规定,对朝鲜领导人个人生活(如整容)不报道、不评论、不转载。

The previous day, on January 23, the provincial government state censors of Guangdong province issued another directive saying: “Guangdong Propaganda Department: North Korea objects to Shenzhen Satellite TV’s report that Kim Jong-un had a face-lift. Do not report this incident, including Xinhua’s clarification. (January 23, 2013)” 广东省委宣传部:深圳卫视报道了金正恩整容引发了朝鲜外交抗议,此事不要报道,包括新华社的澄清也不要报道。

What was particularly noteworthy was Chinese censors had specifically ordered Chinese media to censor China’s own state media report from Xinhua, in a bid to prevent Chinese citizens from reading their own governments official propaganda, which in this case was written for consumption by a foreign audience.

It is not unusual for both North Korean and Chinese state media to issue reports only in foreign languages and not in native Korean or Chinese, targeting and limiting the audience who is able to access it.

Apparently, Pyongyang issued a demarche to Beijing, and the Chinese ruling party instructed the official Chinese party media organ, Xinhua, to debunk the stories, and Xinhua issued a report Tuesday, citing two of its correspondents in Pyongyang who denying the plastic surgery rumours. Xinhua had its correspondents in Seoul and Pyongyang write a detailed background of the story which has circulated in the often gossip fueled and unverifiable rumor filled South Korean media, concluding that media stories that Kim Jong-un has had plastic surgery six times to resemble his grandfather. The story has been reported for months in South Korean, Japanese, and other foreign media, but was reported recently on a Chinese news website, and then reported as fact on Shenzhen Satellite TV in recent days.

The official Chinese censorship directives were first reported by Chinese Digital Times, a Berkeley California based website that monitors Chinese censorship of news reports and issues that strictly control what Chinese media can report on and filter news or online discussion on issues the ruling Chinese party deems sensitive. “Chinese state media does make a distinction for news coverage intended for domestic consumption,” said Anne Henochowicz, translation coordinator for China Digital Times. “This Xinhua report was likely made for foreign consumption, including Taiwan and Hong Kong, which wold explain why it was written in both Chinese and English.’

Chinese journalists and bloggers often refer to these official censorship instructions as “Directives from the Ministry of Truth.”

“Those hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the nation should not expect any mercy or leniency,” official North Korean central News Agency said Thursday. “Time will clearly show what dear price the human scum and media in the service of traitors of South Korea, slaves of capital, will have to pay,” it said.

“Time will clearly show what dear price the human scum and media in the service of traitors of South Korea, slaves of capital, will have to pay,” the Korean Central news Agency said Wednesday.

The rumours of Kim Jong-un having a facelift have been fed by Pyongyang’s propaganda apparatus who for months carefully crafted a meticulous written and pictorial narrative trying to evoke similarities between Kim Jong-Un and his grandfather, including through his dress, haircut, gestures and public appearances.

Xinhua cited as evidence of the stories falsehood that “There have been no news reports in North Korea about Kim Jong-un’s plastic surgery” and that there was “nothing suspicious” about Kim resembling his grandfather since they carry same genes.

While Kim tries to dress, walk and smile like his grandfather, this just aims to give the impression that he “holds the people dear,” Xinhua said.

The Chinese censorship comes at a particularly sensitive time for both internal Chinese press freedom issues and relations between Pyongyang and Beijing.

Earlier this month, Chinese Journalists in the Southern province of XXX publicly refused to follow orders to censor reports on corruption, with the staff of the Southern Weekly holding public demonstrations.

On January 7, state censors from the central Beijing government“Ministry of Truth” issued the following: “Central Propaganda Department: Urgent Notice Concerning the Southern Weekly New Year’s Message Publication Incident: Responsible Party committees and media at all levels must be clear on three points related to this matter: (1) Party control of the media is an unwavering basic principle; (2) This mishap at Southern Weekly has nothing to do with Guangdong Propaganda Department Head Tuo Zhen; (3) External hostile forces are involved in the development of the situation. Every responsible work unit must demand that its department’s editors, reporters, and staff discontinue voicing their support for Southern Weekly online. Starting tomorrow, media and websites in all locales must prominently republish the Global Times editorial “Southern Weekly’s ‘Message to Readers’ Is Food for Thought Indeed.” (January 7, 2013).”中宣部:关于南方周末新年献辞出版事件的紧急通知,各级主管党委和媒体,对于此次事件,必须明确以下三点:一,党管媒体是不可动摇的基本原则;二, 南方周末此次出版事故与广东省委宣传部长庹震同志无关;三,此事的发展有境外敌对势力介入。各主管单位必须严格要求其部门的编辑,记者和员工不得继续在网 络上发言支持南方周末。各地媒体、网站明天起以显著版面转发《环球时报》的社评《南方周末“致读者”实在令人深思》。

The order by Beijing to all media and bloggers to ‘refrain from writing on the personal lives of North Korean leaders” comes two days after Beijing on Tuesday took an unusually adversarial position against Pyongyang in signing a unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution that imposed new sanctions on North Korea for their December launch of a long range ballistic rocket, which most analysts say was testing the rocket delivery system for nuclear warheads designed to reach the United States.

“China maintains that the Security Council’s reaction should be prudent and moderate, and that it should work for the peace and stability of the (Korean) Peninsula and avoid the progressive escalation of tensions,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily press briefing on Monday.

The U.S. and China hashed out a carefully worded agreement in private negotiations over the last month to win Beijing’s approval of the UN sanctions. “China and the US have many differences in principles over dealing with the satellite launch. That’s why the UN negotiations have lasted for more than a month,”Shi Yuanhua, a researcher on Korean studies at the Shanghai-based Fudan University, was quoted as saying.

Diplomats say the U.S. circulated a draft resolution to the 15-member U.N. Security Council condemning the launch and expand existing sanctions.

Aside from the UNSC resolution, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said China does not support North Korea’s nuclear weapons program at a meeting with a delegation sent by South Korea’s President-elect to Beijing. “I believe South Korea under Park’s leadership will achieve its growth targets of the new era,” Yang was quoted by the official South Korean news agency, Yonhap, as saying during a meeting with the delegation. “South Korea is very important to China, and our strategic relations will develop into a new stage and take a big leap down the road.”

North Korean state media just released a statement by the supreme power body of the regime, the National Defense Commission Thursday January 24 vowing “ a variety of satellites and long-range rockets which will be launched by the DPRK one after another and a nuclear test of higher level” in an “upcoming all-out action.” The NDC dismissed “all the illegal resolutions adopted by the “United Nations Security Council.

The NDC built on Wednesday January 23 KCNA official reaction to the UN security Council condemnation and sanctions taken after last month’s launch of a ballistic missile rocket designed as a delivery system for nuclear weapons, “that only when the denuclearization of the world is realized on a perfect and preferential basis including the denuclearization of the U.S., will it be possible to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and ensure peace and security of the DPRK.”

The NDC statement is significant as is targets Beijing, as much as the US or ROK.

The National Defense Commission statement, according to KCNA said : “Our successful launch of satellite Kwangmyongsong 3-2 was a great jubilee in the history of the nation as it placed the nation’s dignity and honor on the highest plane and a spectacular success made in the efforts to develop space for peaceful purposes recognized by the world.

This being a hard reality, the U.S. at the outset of the year termed our satellite launch “long-range missile launch,” “wanton violation” of the UN resolutions and “blatant challenge” to world peace and security in a bid to build up public opinion on this. Finally, it prodded the UNSC into cooking up a new resolution on tightening sanctions against the DPRK.

The keynote of the resolution was worked out through backstage dealing with the U.S. as a main player and it was adopted at the UNSC with blind hand-raising by its member nations. This goes to clearly prove that the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK has entered a new dangerous phase.
This shows, at the same time, that those big countries, which are obliged to take the lead in building a fair world order, are abandoning without hesitation even elementary principle, under the influence of the U.S. arbitrary and high-handed practices, failing to come to their senses.

Moreover, this also indicates that the UNSC, which should regard it as its mission to guarantee sovereign rights and security of its member nations, has turned into a defunct marionette international body on which no hope can be pinned.

The DPRK National Defence Commission solemnly declares as follows as regards the adoption of the entirely unreasonable resolution on the DPRK:

We totally reject all the illegal resolutions on the DPRK adopted by the UNSC.

We have never recognized all forms of base resolutions tightening sanctions cooked up by the hostile forces to encroach upon the DPRK’s sovereignty.

Sovereignty is what keeps a country and nation alive.

The country and the nation without sovereignty are more dead than alive.

The U.S. should clearly know that the times have changed and so have the army and the people of the DPRK.

  1. Along with the nationwide efforts to defend the sovereignty, the DPRK will continue launching peaceful satellites to outer space one after another.
    2. As the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK has entered more dangerous phase, overall efforts should be directed to denuclearizing big powers including the U.S. rather than the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
    The army and people of the DPRK drew a final conclusion that only when the denuclearization of the world is realized on a perfect and preferential basis including the denuclearization of the U.S., will it be possible to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and ensure peace and security of the DPRK.
    “Under this situation the DPRK can not but declare that there will no longer exist the six-party talks and the September 19 joint statement.”
    No dialogue on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will be possible in the future even though there may be dialogues and negotiations on ensuring peace and security in the region including the Korean Peninsula.
    3. We will launch an all-out action to foil the hostile policy toward the DPRK being pursued by the U.S. and those dishonest forces following the U.S., and safeguard the sovereignty of the country and the nation.
    The UN Security Council resolution on expanding sanctions against the DPRK, which was adopted on the initiative of the U.S., represents the most dangerous phase of the hostile policy toward the DPRK.

Under the prevailing situation, the army and people of the DPRK will turn out in an all-out action to defend its sovereignty which is more precious than their own lives and frustrate the moves of the U.S. and its allies to isolate and stifle the DPRK.

We do not hide that a variety of satellites and long-range rockets which will be launched by the DPRK one after another and a nuclear test of higher level which will be carried out by it in the upcoming all-out action, a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century, will target against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people.

Settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with words as it regards jungle law as the rule of its survival.

The world will clearly see how the army and people of the DPRK punish all kinds of hostile forces and emerge as a final victor while following the just road of defending its sovereignty, convinced of the justice of its cause.”

North Korea Erupts at “sordid hackwork by rubbish media”: Vows a “dear price the human scum and media”will “have to pay”

24 Jan

North Korea Erupts at “sordid hackwork by rubbish media”: Vows a “dear price the human scum and media”will “have to pay”

By Nate Thayer

North Korea has erupted after months of silence over repeated news reports that Kim Jong-Un had plastic surgery to look like his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, with official media denouncing  “sordid” and “false report… released by enemies is a hideous criminal act which the party, state, army and people can never tolerate,” said Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday, calling it “sordid hackwork by rubbish media.”

Kim Il Sung (L) and his Grandson (R)

Kim Il Sung (L) and his Grandson (R)

What seemed to set Pyongyang off in a particularly virulent tizzy was not months of speculative South Korean news reports suggesting the young Kim had undergone plastic surgery, but rather a Chinese report last week by China’s Shenzhen TV who cited a diplomatic source who, on a private visit to Pyongyang, had spoken to a North Korean official who confirmed the plastic surgery rumours. KCNA referenced the Chinese report,

“Those hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the nation should not expect any mercy or leniency.

“Time will clearly show what dear price the human scum and media in the service of traitors of South Korea, slaves of capital, will have to pay,” it said.

Statues of Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang

Statues of Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang

Kim Jong Un on horse repeatedlly depicted in state media since he assumed power one year ago

Kim Jong Un on horse repeatedlly depicted in state media since he assumed power one year ago

Apparently, Pyongyang issued a demarche to Beijing, and the Chinese ruling party instructed the official Chinese party organ, Xinhua, to debunk the stories, and Xinhua issued a report Tuesday, citing two of its correspondents in Pyongyang who  denied the plastic surgery rumours. Xinhua had its correspondents in Seoul and Pyongyang write a detailed background of the story which has circulated in the often gossip fueled and unverifiable rumor filled South Korean media, concluding that media stories that Kim Jong-un has had plastic surgery six times to resemble his grandfather was first reported in Seoul, then picked up by a Chinese news website, and then reported as fact on Shenzhen Satellite TV.

The rumours have been fed by Pyongyang’s propaganda apparatus who for months carefully crafted a meticulous written and pictorial narrative trying to evoke similarities between Kim Jong-Un and his grandfather, including through his dress, haircut, gestures and public appearances.

Xinhua cited as evidence of the stories falsehood that “There have been no news reports in North Korea about Kim Jong-un’s plastic surgery” and that there was “nothing suspicious” about Kim resembling his grandfather since they carry same genes.

While Kim tries to dress, walk and smile like his grandfather, this just aims to give the impression that he “holds the people dear,” Xinhua said.

Out of 7,000 Internet Readers of This Blog Today, Exactly Zero Came From North Korea and Precisely One From China

21 Jan

Out of 7,000 Internet Readers  of This Blog Today, Exactly Zero Came From North Korea and Precisely One From China

A Brief Data Report Addressing the Thousands of Speculative News Stories in Recent Days on the March Towards an IT Revolution by Pyongyang and a Commitment to a Free Press In Beijing

By Nate Thayer

In case anyone was confused about censorship of, or access, the internet In North Korea, I received 7,113 page views on this blog so far today from 91 countries. More than 75% of those visitors came to read stories I had posted on North Korea.

There were precisely zero people who visited from North Korea.

And perhaps more interestingly, there was exactly 1 visitor from China. Unless one includes “Taiwan, Province of China”, which had 12 visitors, or Hong Kong, which had 44, or Macao which had 3.

South Korea, or better known as the Republic of Korea, had 141 visitors.

There were more readers from the “Palestinian Territory, Occupied” with 2, Guernsey (1), Senegal (2) Liberia (2), Guam (2), Iraq (6), Republic of Moldova (3), Afghanistan (9), and Slovenia (21) than there were from China, a country with one quarter of the world population which shares a land border with North Korea, and poses major strategic, security, economic, foreign policy, and political policy issues for Beijing and the citizenry of the People’s Republic.

Either the Chinese people have particularly shrewd and discriminating literary tastes, or their leaders are fucking around with internet access from the rest of the world on issues that, anywhere else, would be a given as a matter of public interest

Here is a breakdown of the countries from whence visitors to this blog came from today:

Country                Views

United States    3,965

Germany             830

United Kingdom 394

India      338

France  316

Canada 287

Australia 194

Singapore 165

Republic of Korea 141

Japan    110

Switzerland 103

Thailand 77

Austria  66

Cambodia 55

Finland 53

Belgium 51

Netherlands 47

Norway                45

Hong Kong 44

Indonesia 34

Romania 34

New Zealand 27

Philippines 25

Greece 22

Slovenia 21

Mexico                 20

Portugal 19

Turkey 18

Brazil     18

Ireland 18

Czech Republic  18

Sweden               17

Denmark 16

United Arab Emirates     15

Italy  15

Sri Lanka 15

Spain  14

Malaysia 14

Taiwan, Province of China 12

Poland 12

Afghanistan 9

Chile 8

Russian Federation 7

Viet Nam 7

Qatar 7

Bangladesh 7

Israel 7

Zimbabwe 6

South Africa 6

Bosnia and Herzegovina 6

Iraq 6

Saudi Arabia 6

Egypt 5

Estonia                 5

Costa Rica 5

Kuwait 5

Mongolia 4

Albania                 4

Luxembourg 4

Macao 3

Jordan 3

Republic of Moldova 3

Panama 3

Pakistan 3

Palestinian Territory, Occupied  2

Hungary 2

Slovakia 2

Nepal 2

Senegal 2

Myanmar 2

Liberia 2

Guam 2

Tunisia 2

Bulgaria 2

Ukraine 2

Venezuela 2

Georgia 2

Colombia 2

Bahrain 2

United Republic of Tanzania 1

China 1

Lao People’s Democratic Republic 1

Bermuda 1

Latvia 1

Jamaica                1

Kyrgyzstan 1

Argentina 1

Morocco 1

Montenegro 1

Kenya 1

Guernsey 1

 

 

 

 

Google Chief’s Teenage Daughter Blog Puts AP North Korea News Bureau to Shame: A Comparative Analysis

21 Jan

Amateur Journalism of Teenage Daughter of Google Chief Puts AP North Korea Reporting to Shame: A Comparative Analysis

Exactly one year ago, the Associated Press was granted permission to open a news bureau in North Korea, becoming the first western media agency to set up an official operation, providing what was to be a major propaganda coup for the repressive Pyongyang regime and what has evolved into an equally major blow to the reputation of, and an embarrassment for, the  AP.

On January  10, while Google chief Eric Schmidt and his delegation were in North Korea engaging in a very secretive and odd mission of which they refused to offer any substantive comments on their objectives, accomplishment or purpose, Associated Press  vice president  John Daniszewski  told the Voice of America that the AP Pyongyang bureau was not subject to state censorship and strictly follows the AP standards and rules used to produce the same stories in its global network  of bureaus that make it the largest media organization in the world.

Why then did an amateur teenage college student accompanying her father on the same Google trip deliver a knockout blow in her blog posting of the high profile top world story, putting to shame with substance, detail,  quotations from key participants, color, and written presentation the entire AP Korea coverage, despite the AP Pyongyang Bureau Chief, Ms Jean H. Lee being physically present at every event of the 4 day visit, even accompanying the official delegation on the airplane from Beijing?

But what Ms. Jean H. Lee, the AP Pyongyang Bureau Chief, the AP management, the North Korean government, Governor Richardson, and Ms. Sophie Schmidt’s own father, Google head Eric Schmidt, apparently didn’t realize was they had a stealth citizen journalist who had wangled her way on to the trip as a member of the delegation—Google head’s 19 year old daughter, college student Sophie Schmidt.

On January 3, AP Pyongyang bureau chief Jean H. Lee—reporting from Seoul not incidentally—released a story that AP headlined “APNewsBreak: Google exec chairman to visit NKorea” which led with the sentence “Google’s executive chairman is preparing to travel to one of the last frontiers of cyberspace: North Korea.”

The story went on to contend that “North Korea is in the midst of what leader Kim Jong Un called a modern-day “industrial revolution” in a New Year’s Day speech to the nation Monday. He is pushing science and technology as a path to economic development for the impoverished country, aiming for computers in every school and digitized machinery in every factory. However, giving citizens open access to the Internet has not been part of the North’s strategy. While some North Koreans can access a domestic Intranet service, very few have clearance to freely surf the World Wide Web.”

The AP story concluded saying “Last year, a group of North Koreans even visited Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. And government-affiliated agencies already use at least one Google product to get state propaganda out to the world: YouTube.”

What was not mentioned in the story was that a Korean American broker who makes his living taking money from wealthy corporations and officials to be a fixer to arrange access to the North Korean government, was not only the source of her story, but was paid tens of thousands of dollars by the Associated Press over a period of years to broker the agreement that allowed AP to open the Pyongyang Bureau in the first place. Mr. Tony Nam Chung was also on the delegation, who the AP referred to simply as an “Asian expert.”

Let’s compare the reporting of the teenager, Sophie Schmidt and that of the AP bureau chief, Jean H Lee, own dispatches, both having witnessed exactly the same events, met the same players, and analyzed the significance of the newsworthiness of the high powered delegation that grabbed world headlines for days.

Having the only western bureau of a press organization in Pyongyang has its perks. Ms Lee was the only journalist given a visa to accompany the Google delegation on the flight from Beijing to Pyongyang.

The delegation left Beijing airport where a scrum or reporters managed to get the only on the record comments of substance from delegation leaders, former U.S. politician Bill Richardson and Google head Eric Schmidt.

On that day, Jan 7, upon arrival in Pyongyang, AP Pyongyang Bureau chief Jean H. Lee tweeted “Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean We’re here. #Google executive chairman arrives in #NorthKorea http://bo.st/TG57Di”

Another AP official tweeted “Were they on same flight as @newsjean & @dguttenfelder? MT “@AP: BREAKING: Google executive arrives in NKorea on controversial trip”

Lee tweets in reply: “Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean @adamjdean @dguttenfelder @AP Indeed. Last photo posted was of Schmidt on left, Richardson on right on Air China.”

Here is the AP picture taken by Lee on the airplane and the AP picture released on arrival at Pyongyang’s Sunan airport:

AP Korea Bureau Chief Tweets Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean @adamjdean @dguttenfelder @AP Indeed. Last photo posted is of Schmidt on left, Richardson on right on Air China.”

AP Korea Bureau Chief Tweets Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean @adamjdean @dguttenfelder @AP Indeed. Last photo posted is of Schmidt on left, Richardson on right on Air China.”

AP’s  January 7 story on the arrival in North Korea was titled “ Google big arrives in North Korea” datelined PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP), and written by Ms. Lee. The lead sentence was “The Google chairman wants a first-hand look at North Korea’s economy and social media” adding that “Schmidt, a staunch proponent of Internet connectivity and openness, is expected to make a donation during the visit” and that “Computer and cell phone use is gaining ground in North Korea’s larger cities. However, most North Koreans only have access to a domestic Intranet system, not the World Wide Web. For North Koreans, Internet use is still strictly regulated and allowed only with approval.”

And here is excerpts from the blog of the untrained teenage college student, Mrs. Schmidt, titled “It might not get weirder than this”:

It starts with a Disclaimer: I am a North Korea amateur and can only share what it’s like to be part of a NK-bound delegation. Straightforward trip report here: no discussion of meeting details or intentions–just some observations.”

“This was how it started: A Chinese media pack saw us off at Beijing Airport. “Gov” is unfazed, a pro. The level of media attention prior to the trip raised the stakes and definitely affected the calculations on both sides.

We flew Air China in, on a full flight.  Mostly Chinese businessmen, Western NGO types and assorted diplomats, all looking appropriately battle-hardened.  An Ethiopian attaché assured me there was “never a dull moment” in the hermit kingdom.”

Google delegation at Beijing airport preparing to depart fro Pyongyang

Google delegation at Beijing airport preparing to depart fro Pyongyang

Schmidt accompanied her comments with a photo of the North Korean Custom form that both she, her dad, and the AP’s Ms Jean Lee filled out upon arrival in Pyongyang, with the comment “Do note #1 and #6: leave your “killing device” and “publishing’s of all kinds” at home.  Got it. We carried a ton of cash (USD) since that was the only way to pay for anything.”

"My favorite form. Do note #1 and #6: leave your "killing device" and "publishings of all kinds" at home.  Got it."

“My favorite form.
Do note #1 and #6: leave your “killing device” and “publishing’s of all kinds” at home. Got it.”

She then detailed the ambiance of their arrival.“An aside: For a country that banned religion, and has sent thousands of practicing Christians to prison camps, the Christmas trees were rather incongruous. When asked, Minder 1 chuckled and offered, “New Year’s trees?” We picked up visas at the check-in desk: slips of paper with our pictures taped on, which they then took back upon arrival at Pyongyang.  Deprived of our deserved passport stamps, we soldiered on.

Sophie Schmidt's North Korean ID card

Sophie Schmidt’s North Korean ID card

Our flight was the only one coming into Pyongyang that day. Small press swarm upon arrival, including media from NK, China and the AP, who have a small bureau in Pyongyang. We also met our handlers, two men from the Foreign Ministry, whom we gave code name. As minders go, they were alright.  They were affable, but would frequently give noncommittal answers to our questions…or just not answer us at all. I’d like to think they grew a little fond of us, though realistically, they were probably just as happy to see the back of us as we were to leave.”

Google delegation arrives at Pyongyang

Google delegation arrives at Pyongyang

Ms Schmidt then added what it would seem to be a crucial question on the delegation of the head of a company whose name is synonymous with the global borderless information age and free flow of information on a visit to the world’s most censored country ranked dead last on every list of world nations on issues of free press and free speech. “It was a nine-person delegation in total. We left our phones and laptops behind in China, since we were warned they’d be confiscated in NK, and probably infected with lord knows what malware.”

GOOGLE GROUP SHOT

Ms. Schmidt then made sure to include what is universally confirmed pertinent background context: “Ordinary North Koreans live in a near-total information bubble, without any true frame of reference.  I can’t think of any reaction to that except absolute sympathy.  My understanding is that North Koreans are taught to believe they are lucky to be in North Korea, so why would they ever want to leave?  They’re hostages in their own country, without any real consciousness of it.  And the opacity of the country’s inner workings–down to the basics of its economy–further serves to reinforce the state’s control. The best description we could come up with: it’s like The Truman Show, at country scale. “

She inserted a caveat for the readers benefit and in the interests of full disclosure—something starkly absent from all the Associated Press reporting: #1 Caveat: It’s impossible to know how much we can extrapolate from what we saw in Pyongyang to what the DPRK is really like.  Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments.  We had zero interactions with non-state-approved North Koreans and were never far from our two minders (2, so one can mind the other). The longer I think about what we saw and heard, the less sure I am about what any of it actually meant.”

GOOGLE AT E LIBRARY

Ms Schmidt then offered a portrait of the city and what she saw—which was limited to the hotel and being chauffeured to pre staged events and places She gave an overview of the arrangements of which they were to operate under during the visit, a portrayal that is consistent with the accounts of virtually every foreign visitor to the DPRK, and certainly every professional journalist: “We were told well ahead of time to assume that everything was bugged: phones, cars, rooms, meetings, restaurants and who knows what else.  I looked for cameras in the room but came up short. But then, why bother with cameras when you have minders? After a day in frigid Pyongyang, I was just thankful it was warm. Long, empty hallways. My father’s reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open. Since we didn’t have cell phones or alarm clocks,  the question of how we’d wake up on time in the morning was legitimate.  One person suggested announcing  “I’m awake” to the room, and then waiting until someone came to fetch you.”

"Long, empty hallways. My father's reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open."

“Long, empty hallways. My father’s reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open.”

Long, empty hallways. My father’s reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open.

As for the ambiance of the accommodations, the teenager wrote: “We stayed at a guesthouse a few kilometers from Pyongyang that was really like a private hotel, in that we were the only guests.  Food overall? Solidly decent.  Like Korean food, only with less pizzazz and more corn (?). Inside, the place was a bizarre mix of marble grandeur and what passed for chic in North Korea in the 1970s.

Photographs of the Hotel:

Hotel Lobby

Hotel Lobby

Main lobby (above): Grecian statues, pirate ship appliqué, TV playing patriotic broadcasts.

In case you were wondering where tacky fake floral arrangements went when they went out of style: they're all in North Korea. (Ditto for gaudy light fixtures.)

In case you were wondering where tacky fake floral arrangements went when they went out of style: they’re all in North Korea. (Ditto for gaudy light fixtures.)

In case you were wondering where tacky fake floral arrangements went when they went out of style: they’re all in North Korea. (Ditto for gaudy light fixtures.)

And those beds? Hard as a rock.  Very little in North Korea, it seemed to us, was built to be inviting. Not a rug in the place.

And those beds? Hard as a rock. Very little in North Korea, it seemed to us, was built to be inviting. Not a rug in the place.

Three channels on the TVs: CNN International, dubbed-over USSR-era films, and the DPRK channel, which was by far the most entertaining.  My tolerance level for videos of Kim Jong Un in crowds turns out to be remarkably high.

Ms Schmidt then described the ambiance of the city of Pyongyang that put the AP’s Jean Lee to shame: “You could almost forget you were in North Korea in this city, until you noticed little things, like the lack of commercial storefronts. No street-level commerce, either. I didn’t realize that I hadn’t seen any plastic bags yet until I saw one person with a bag of apples and thought it looked out of place. Our trip coincided with the “Respected Leader” Kim Jong Un’s birthday. On that day, the little stalls that dotted the city and sold small sundries had long lines as they distributed treats.”

On the requisite tour to pay homage to the Great Leader at the palace, she writes:“Large, gilded gates outside the Palace. Heavily guarded, military types everywhere. This country has the 4th largest standing army in the world  (1.4 million)  and it's the size of Pennsylvania.

On the requisite tour to pay homage to the Great Leader at the palace, she writes:“Large, gilded gates outside the Palace. Heavily guarded, military types everywhere. This country has the 4th largest standing army in the world (1.4 million) and it’s the size of Pennsylvania.

 We weren’t allowed to bring anything in–no coats, gloves, cameras, hats, etc. (“No contents!”) We entered a series of tunnels with those moving-walkways you find in airports, which we slowly rode for probably 20-30 minutes.  The walls were lined with portraits of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung looking at things, which turn out to be rather important: Because the Leaders are god-like figures, when one provides “on-site guidance” (which they always can, because they are experts in all things) it’s like a benediction.

Some favored the portrait of Kim Il Sung behind a gynecologist's chair (insert "on-site guidance" joke here). I preferred the one of him sitting behind a desk double-fisting ears of corn.

Some favored the portrait of Kim Il Sung behind a gynecologist’s chair (insert “on-site guidance” joke here). I preferred the one of him sitting behind a desk double-fisting ears of corn.

Behind us in line were at least 600 North Korean soldiers of various rank, for whom this was a solemn occasion and precious opportunity–they may be allowed to visit once more in their lives.

On the ubiquitous lectures that every visitor to Pyongyang is mid numbingly subjected to, including the AP chief of Korea news coverage, are all too familiar, Sophie Schmidt observes: “And open with a familiar speech: It was only due to the instruction/vision/guidance of Our Marshall/the Respected Leader/ Awesome-O wunderkid Kim Jong Un that we were able to successfully __________ (insert achievement here: launch a ballistic rocket, build complicated computer software, negotiate around US sanctions, etc.). 

Reminded me of the “We’re Not Worthy” bit from Wayne’s World. Just another example of the reality distortion field we routinely encountered in North Korea, just frequently enough to remind us how irrational the whole system really is.”

And Sophie went on to describe with a keen eye for detail and color the transportation system: “Metro Station. Rather less grand than the mausoleum, but also our best shot at seeing a non-staged group of ordinary North Koreans. The lines are probably twice as deep in the ground as an ordinary city’s, designed to withstand bombing raids. Cars are old but clean. Portraits of the Leaders? Check. Revolutionary music? Check. In the station, they had the day’s newspapers on display; there are four papers and all are state-run. In a fantastic bit of timing, as we exited the train, the station’s power cut out (above right).  The commuters around us immediately pulled out flashlights, which they presumably carry all the time.  Can’t win ’em all, minders.”

In a fantastic bit of timing, as we exited the train, the station's power cut out (above right).  The commuters around us immediately pulled out flashlights, which they presumably carry all the time.  Can't win 'em all, minders.

In a fantastic bit of timing, as we exited the train, the station’s power cut out (above right). The commuters around us immediately pulled out flashlights, which they presumably carry all the time. Can’t win ’em all, minders.

The AP’s Jean Lee, was also at the hotel, and her sole contribution on the ambience was tweeting from her twitter account: Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean “Snacks for sale at #NKorean hotel outside Pyongyang where #Google delegation stayed this week. @apklug http://twitpic.com/bu17ia” and posting this photograph:

Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean “Snacks for sale at #NKorean hotel outside AP picture of range of food available: "Pyongyang where #Google delegation stayed this week."

Jean H. Lee ‏@newsjean “Snacks for sale at #NKorean hotel outside AP picture of range of food available: “Pyongyang where #Google delegation stayed this week.”

It would seem quite apparent that the account of Ms. Schmidt, the college teenager, of the Google delegation’s first day was considerably more substantive, informative, detailed, without bias, fear of repercussions from Pyongyang government thugs and colorful than that of the Associated Press journalist in charge of the world’s biggest news organization’s Korea coverage.

Then we move on to day two, the highlight of the world headline grabbing delegation’s visit to Pyongyang—their visit to the computer center and universities where North Korean’s allegedly have access to use computers and, according to the AP, surf the internet.

Here is the AP report in its entirety:

“Google exec gets look at NKoreans using Internet.”

By JEAN H. LEE, Associated Press – Jan 8, 2013

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Students at North Korea’s premier university showed Google’s executive chairman how they look for information online: They Google it.

But surfing the Internet that way is the privilege of only a very few in North Korea, whose authoritarian government imposes strict limits on access to the World Wide Web.

Google’s Eric Schmidt got a first look at North Korea’s limited Internet usage when an American delegation he and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson are leading visited a computer lab Tuesday at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. Other members of the delegation on the unusual four-day trip include Schmidt’s daughter, Sophie, and Jared Cohen, director of the Google Ideas think tank.

Google looks at NK computers

Google looks at NK computers

Schmidt and Cohen chatted with students working on HP desktop computers at an “e-library” at the university named after North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. One student showed Schmidt how he accesses reading materials from Cornell University online on a computer with a red tag denoting it as a gift from Kim Jong Il.

“He’s actually going to a Cornell site,” Schmidt told Richardson after peering at the URL.

Cohen asked a student how he searches for information online. The student clicked on Google — “That’s where I work!” Cohen said — and then asked to be able to type in his own search: “New York City.” Cohen clicked on a Wikipedia page for the city, pointing at a photo and telling the student, “That’s where I live.”

Google executive Jared Cohen surfs the internet in Pyongynag

Google executive Jared Cohen surfs the internet in Pyongynag

Kim Su Hyang, a librarian, said students at Kim Il Sung University have had Internet access since the laboratory opened in April 2010. School officials said the library is open from 8 a.m. to midnight, even when school is not in session, like Tuesday.

While university students at Kim Chaek University of Science and Technology and the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology also have carefully monitored Internet access — and are under strict instructions to access only educational materials — most North Koreans have never surfed the Web.

Computers at Pyongyang’s main library at the Grand People’s Study house are linked to a domestic Intranet service that allows them to read state-run media online and access a trove of reading materials culled by North Korean officials. North Koreans with computers at home can also sign up for the Intranet service.

google computer room

google computer room

But access to the World Wide Web is extremely rare and often is limited to those with clearance to get on the Internet.

At Kim Chaek University, instructors and students wishing to use the Internet must register first for permission and submit an application with their requests for research online, Ryu Sun Ryol, head of the e-library, said.

But he said it is only a matter of time before Internet use becomes widespread.

“We will start having access to the Internet soon,” he said in an interview last month. He said North Korea is in the midst of a major push to expand computer use in every classroom and workplace.

New red banners promoting slogans drawn from Kim’s speech line Pyongyang’s snowy streets, and North Koreans are still cramming to study the lengthy speech. It was the first time in 19 years for North Koreans to hear their leader give a New Year’s Day speech. During the rule of late leader Kim Jong Il, state policy was distributed through North Korea’s three main newspapers.

There was a festive air in Pyongyang for another reason: Kim Jong Un’s birthday. Though Jan. 8 is not recognized as a national holiday, like the birthdays of his father and grandfather, and his official birth date has not been announced, North Koreans acknowledged that it was their leader’s birthday Tuesday.

Waitresses at the downtown Koryo Hotel dressed up in sparkly traditional Korean dresses and decorated the lobby with balloons.

Follow AP’s bureau chief for Pyongyang and Seoul on Twitter at twitter.com/newsjean.

Copyright © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Now here is where the teenage Ms Schmidt, who wrote with the tone of anyone familiar with teenage girls living in a free society, who (and I totally guessing here) was probably loudly chewing gum during the events, excels: reporting on the actual details and state of North Korea’s digital capabilities and future.

First Ms Schmidt posted the same AP photograph but included her own caption: She posted a picture of  North Koreans using computers which was broadcast worldwide by the Associated Press but given absolutely no explanatory commentary, leaving readers wondering whether these were actually North Koreans using the internet, a capability strictly banned in the country.

She captioned the photograph:

"“The Kim Il Sung University e-Library, or as I like to call it, the e-Potemkin Village”

““The Kim Il Sung University e-Library, or as I like to call it, the e-Potemkin Village”

She offered an insert box to the main bar story that any professional journalist knows as crucial to packaging a story to make it more readable and keep the news consumers attention, not to mention reinforce the stories credibility:

Top Level Take-aways:

1. Go to North Korea if you can. It is very, very strange.

2. If it is January, disregard the above. It is very, very cold.

3. Nothing I’d read or heard beforehand really prepared me for what we saw.

I can’t express how cold it was. Maybe 10-15 degrees F in the sunshine, not including wind chill.  The cold was compounded by the fact that none of the buildings we visited were heated, which meant hour-long tours in cavernous, 30-degree indoor environments. It is quite extraordinary to have the Honored Guest Experience in such conditions: they’re proudly showing you their latest technology or best library, and you can see your breath. A clue to how much is really in their control.”

Sophie Schmidt then wrote a story of the events that, in comparison, made the AP’s Jean Lee look like, well, a North Korean state propagandist:

“Inside, we were shown through study rooms like the one above, maybe 60 people diligently at desks.  Were they bussed in for our benefit? Were any of them actually reading? All I know is that it. was. freezing.”

“Looks great, right? All this activity, all those monitors. Probably 90 desks in the room, all manned, with an identical scene one floor up. One problem: No one was actually doing anything.  A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care?  Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home.  When one of our group went to peek back into the room, a man abruptly closed the door ahead of him and told him to move along.”

“Looks great, right? All this activity, all those monitors. Probably 90 desks in the room, all manned, with an identical scene one floor up. One problem: No one was actually doing anything. A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care? Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home. When one of our group went to peek back into the room, a man abruptly closed the door ahead of him and told him to move along.”

She continued with more crucial first hand detail, saying “Looks great, right? All this activity, all those monitors. Probably 90 desks in the room, all manned, with an identical scene one floor up. One problem: No one was actually doing anything.  A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. More disturbing: when our group walked in–a noisy bunch, with media in tow–not one of them looked up from their desks.  Not a head turn, no eye contact, no reaction to stimuli. They might as well have been figurines.  Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care?  Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home.  When one of our group went to peek back into the room, a man abruptly closed the door ahead of him and told him to move along.”

Then the teenage Ms. Schmidt offered what neither her father or the Associated Press were willing to regarding the technical realities of North Korea in the information age.

“On the tech front: Everything that is accessible is accessible only in special tiers. Their mobile network, Koryolink, has between 1-2 million subscribers. No data service, but international calls were possible on the phones we rented. Realistically, even basic service is prohibitively expensive, much like every other consumption good (fuel, cars, etc.). The officials we interacted with, and a fair number of people we saw in Pyongyang, had mobiles (but not smart phones). North Korea has a national intranet, a walled garden of scrubbed content taken from the real Internet.  Our understanding is that some university students have access to this.  On tour at the Korea Computer Center (a deranged version of the Consumer Electronics Show), they demo’d their latest invention: a tablet, running on Android that had access to the real Internet.  Whether anyone, beyond very select students, high-ranking officials or occasional American delegation tourists, actually gets to use it is unknowable.  We also saw virtual-reality software, video chat platform, musical composition software (?) and other random stuff.” 

“What’s so odd about the whole thing is that no one in North Korea can even hope to afford the things they showed us. And it’s not like they’re going to export this technology.  They’re building products for a market that doesn’t exist.”  

 

“Those in the know are savvier than you’d expect. Exhibit A: Eric fielded questions like, “When is the next version of Android coming out?”and “Can you help us with e-Settlement so that we can put North Korean apps on Android Market?”  Answers: soon, and No, silly North Koreans, you’re under international bank sanctions.”

“They seemed to acknowledge that connectivity is coming, and that they can’t hope to keep it out.  Indeed, some seemed to understand that it’s only with connectivity that their country has a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping up with the 21st century. But we’ll have to wait and see what direction they choose to take.”

 "We can leave, really?  Thank you, Kim Jung-un. No, really, thank him, because it was only with his expert instruction and inspirational vision that I was able to make this slideshow."


“We can leave, really? Thank you, Kim Jung-un. No, really, thank him, because it was only with his expert instruction and inspirational vision that I was able to make this slideshow.”

The Sophie posts a picture of herself captioned: We can leave, really?”

“No, really, thank him, because it was only with his expert instruction and inspirational vision that I was able to make this slideshow.

The end.”

On January 16. 2012, the official Korean Central News Agency announced “AP Pyongyang Bureau Opens” located within the offices of central nervous system of the considerable North Korean Propaganda machine, the KCNA. “Present there were the delegation of the Associated Press headed by its President and CEO Thomas Curley” adding “Thomas said the opening of the bureau would bring hundreds of millions of people around the world the cultural understanding and access to stories of political and economic development of the DPRK” adding “He has great expectations for good journalism, he said, adding this is a great opportunity to just understand and report.”

Prior to January 2012, it took The Associated Press almost a year to finalize terms to open a full-time news bureau in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang during which time AP head Curley supplicated himself to the leaders of arguably the most repressive government on the planet, coming in last 9 out of the last 10 years in world government rankings of “Enemies of Press Freedom by the independent Reporters Without Borders. On March 8. 2011, KCNA ran an article headlined “Americans Pay Homage to Kim Il Sung” which said in its entirety: “Thomas Curley, president of the Associated Press of the United States, and his party visited the statue of President Kim Il Sung on Mansu Hill on Tuesday. The guests laid bouquets before the statue and paid homage to the President.” Three days later, on March 11, 2011, KCNA reported “General Secretary Kim Jong Il received a gift from Thomas Curley, president and chief executive officer of the Associated Press of the United States on a visit to the DPRK. It was handed to an official concerned on Friday by Thomas Curley.”

The AP news executives had years of direct experience to understand just what the consequences, compromises, capabilities and professional ethical terms were of cutting a deal to allow for access to North Korea. The Television branch of the Associated Press has had a bureau in Pyongyang since 2006. The head of Associated Press Television News behaved similarly in selling the integrity of the news operation in exchange for permission to access the state controlled by a government that regularly ranks dead last, in comparative indexes of nations on human rights, religious freedom, economic freedom, press freedom, and economic health.

On March 22, 2002 KCNA ran a story headlined “Performance “Arirang” praised”, referring to their mass performance propaganda games where hundreds of thousands perform flawless robotic paeans to the Kim Family dynastic dictatorship. “Foreigners were deeply impressed to watch the all-round rehearsal of the mass gymnastic and artistic performance “Arirang”. Nigel Baker, director of content of the London bureau of the Associated Press Television News, said that all scenes of the performance were wonderful, adding that it is hard to enjoy such show elsewhere.  It is something unbelievable that human beings can provide such huge and beautiful background scenes, he noted, calling on the people of all countries to come and see the performance. “

When the AP opened its bureau in January 2012, located inside the building of the state-run news agency, they were assigned by the Pyongyang regime a North Korean “reporter” and “photographer”,  who they AP caricaturized as “under the supervision of two Americans who will make frequent trips to Pyongyang.” It is widely accepted that both are, in fact, trained agents of the North Korean intelligence and propaganda services.

The head of the Korea Central News Agency, Kim Pyong Ho, was quoted at the ceremony as saying the AP promised to report on North Korea “with fairness, balance and accuracy.”

The AP’s Executive editor Kathleen Carroll, speaking from Pyongyang,  assured world news consumers that the AP would operate under the same standards and practices as it did at all its bureaus worldwide. “There’s not a government that we cover that doesn’t occasionally read a story or look at a picture or a piece of video and have an opinion about it, that they may not like it,” she said. “We have those conversations all the time and I don’t expect they’ll be any different here when they occur.”

The AP has refused to release what the terms of their agreement to open the bureau were and have adamantly refused to allow their management or reporters to speak on the record regarding the operations and the conditions and restrictions they work under in the year since the opening ceremony.

In a September interview with the Columbia Journalism Review, the Pyongyang AP bureau chief, Jean H Lee,  offered a few answers to a series of remarkably softball questions. The CJR, in a question and answer format, offered a very brief overview saying that the AP was “the first international, independent journalism agency with a full-time, full-format bureau in the North Korean capital. At the time, the AP refused many requests for interviews with the journalists involved to give them time to get established. Now, seven months on, Lee tells CJR about reporting from a country where visiting international journalists are usually required to relinquish their cell phones, work without Internet access, and submit to constant surveillance.”

CJR asked “How have things changed since the bureau opened in January?” to which Lee responded “We’ve been in North Korea for seven months now, through the challenging early stages of the move. At the moment we’re still concentrating on building the operation, training local staff and building a network in North Korea. I visited here a dozen times in the last two years, especially leading up to January, and I have had incredible insight into how things work here. But it is a very difficult place to work.”

CJR:What are the biggest challenges?”

Jean Lee: There are very strict rules for foreign visitors in North Korea, which includes journalists. The rules require all cell phones to be left at the airport, and foreign visitors must be accompanied by a host at all times. I can’t think of another place in the world where that is the case. You can’t even leave your hotel to go for a walk. There is no interacting with locals unless you’re in the presence of a North Korean. Many journalists have previously entered the country on the invitation of the foreign ministry or by pretending to be an academic or a tourist, but that can have implications for their companies if they get caught. The issue with cell phones is a big one—it’s very difficult to get a cell phone here, and there isn’t much Internet access. Simple things like filing become an issue for journalists.”

CJR:Do you feel like you’re being watched?”

Jean Lee: “I operate under the assumption that everything I say, everything I write, everything I do is being recorded.”

CJR: “You share an office with the Korean Central News Agency, which is state-run. How much do you work with them on stories?”

Jean Lee:We do work with the local news. It’s quite amazing to be included in the local press corps with the local media, and to be invited to state press conferences alongside them. It’s a real coup to be the first Western news organization there.”

CJR: “Is there any resistance to training North Korean journalists to work for the AP?”

Jean Lee: “There is no resistance. They are keen to learn how Western journalism works, and they see it as an opportunity to practice their English. I’ve also seen them adopt Western reporting techniques over the last year. They take what they need and they try and learn from it. It’s really important to build these relationships. North Korea is a closed country and they are suspicious of outsiders, so it takes time. There is quite a lot of training involved!”

CJR:Why did the AP get the gig?”

Jean Lee: “Our TV office did the hard work when they opened a bureau here in 2006. We went in as their partner, but it is clear to the North Korean regime that we are one company. Aside from that, there are two main reasons: firstly, my colleagues and I have been working here for years, so we have a certain longevity. Secondly, AP is the largest news organization in the world. We are completely independent and funded by international subscribers. If the regime wanted to make a political statement about the direction it is heading, this is it. North Korea is taking a big risk in working with us. Technically the US and North Korea are still at war—to reach out to an American company goes against decades of policy. Hopefully we can pave the way for other media.”

Compare AP chief Korea correspondent’s comments to teenage cub reporter Schmidt:

Schmidt: “Trucks equipped with loudspeakers roam the streets. “For the propaganda, “Minder 2 told me, with a tone that suggested You idiot.”

Schmidt: : “Palace of the Sun, Kim Il Sung’s former office and now the national mausoleum where Kim Il Sung’s and Kim Jong Il’s embalmed bodies lie in state.  When a government meeting was cancelled, they decided to let us visit to pay respects (a rare honor). I can barely describe how strange an experience it was. The mausoleum part had all the dramatic doom and gloom you can imagine: red-lit marble halls, severe-looking guards, sweeping, lamenting orchestral music.  The soldiers would line up in threes at each side of the bodies, and bow deeply.  Stone-faced. Also lying in state: the late Leaders’ cars, train compartments and even a yacht, all preserved in their former glory.  Even Kim Jong Il’s platform shoes were on display.  I was delighted to learn that he and I shared a taste in laptops: 15” Macbook Pro.  We weren’t allowed to bring anything in–no coats, gloves, cameras, hats, etc. (“No contents!”) We entered a series of tunnels with those moving-walkways you find in airports, which we slowly rode for probably 20-30 minutes.  The walls were lined with portraits of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung looking at things, which turn out to be rather important: Because the Leaders are god-like figures, when one provides “on-site guidance” (which they always can, because they are experts in all things) it’s like a benediction.”

Schmidt: “Also on our flight out? The North Korean national women’s soccer team. 20 little North Korean women in tracksuits and sneakers, and presumably no intention to defect.

Here’s a North Korea joke:

Q: Did these athletes play indoor or outdoor soccer?

A: Trick question. They have no heat, so what’s the difference?”

Schmidt: “We heard just one song that wasn’t patriotic North Korean music while in the country, first in a promotional video for the e-Potemkin village and again over the speakers on our return flight on the national airline, Air Koryo.  It was a remastered version of The Cranberries’ “Dreams.”  It’s cool, I’m sure they secured the rights first.”


Immediately after the departure of the Google delegation and their stealth citizen reporter, Sophie Schmidt, AP Vice President Daniszewski arrived to celebrate the one year anniversary of AP’s presence in Pyongyang. Upon his departure he admitted to Yonhap news that the AP’s American Pyongyang bureau chief, Jean H. Lee, “hasn’t had good luck getting out of Pyongyang and doing stories. When we want to cover a story, we have to request interviews, request permissions to go to places either to government offices involved or KCNA, which arrange things,” he said.

AP’s Pyongyang bureau is located in the offices of the North Korean official state propaganda Korean Central News Agency, and employees two North Korean reporters handpicked by the Pyongyang regime, which the AP described as “When the AP opened its bureau in January 2012, located inside the building of the state-run news agency, they were assigned by the Pyongyang regime a North Korean “reporter” and “photographer”,  who they AP caricaturized as “under the supervision of two Americans who will make frequent trips to Pyongyang.”

The head of the Korea Central News Agency, Kim Pyong Ho, was quoted at the ceremony as saying the AP promised to report on North Korea “with fairness, balance and accuracy.”

The AP’s Executive editor Kathleen Carroll, speaking from Pyongyang,  assured world news consumers that the AP would operate under the same standards and practices as it did at all its bureaus worldwide. “There’s not a government that we cover that doesn’t occasionally read a story or look at a picture or a piece of video and have an opinion about it, that they may not like it,” she said. “We have those conversations all the time and I don’t expect they’ll be any different here when they occur.”

The AP has refused to release what the terms of their agreement top open the bureau were and have adamantly refused to allow their management or reporters to speak on the record regarding the operations and the conditions and restrictions they work under in the year since the opening ceremony.

The AP’s Executive editor Kathleen Carroll, speaking from Pyongyang,  assured world news consumers that the AP would operate under the same standards and practices as it did at all its bureaus worldwide. “There’s not a government that we cover that doesn’t occasionally read a story or look at a picture or a piece of video and have an opinion about it, that they may not like it,” she said. “We have those conversations all the time and I don’t expect they’ll be any different here when they occur.”

The AP has refused to release what the terms of their agreement top open the bureau were and have adamantly refused to allow their management or reporters to speak on the record regarding the operations and the conditions and restrictions they work under in the year since the opening ceremony.

"“This

AP Vice President Daniszewski said last week North Korea appears to be opening up to the West, citing airing foreign television programs.  “Our correspondent (Jean Lee) mentioned that there are some new TV shows, some interesting films like ‘Madagascar,'” he said, referring to the American cartoon film. This year “We want to see more of the country and talk more with the people.”

I would suggest that if the Associated Press wants to improve their abysmal reporting record to date on North Korea, they should consider closing down their bureau and contracting with youthful tourists at the Beijing airport arrival gate from Pyongyang , who are free of fear of upsetting the most egregious regime on earth responsible for obscene institutional abuses of the rights of their citizens and get away with it by bullying, not just governments, but apparently reporters into giving credibility to their Orwellian narrative in exchange for—well in exchange for apparently not much. Hire a teenager to write a blog of their experiences. They probably could use the cash and the Associated Press could certainly use the credibility to their news operations it has pathetically, cynically, and transparently caused entirely self-inflicted damage.

Teenage Daughter of Google Chief Spills The True Story on North Korea Visit: Puts to Shame Free Press, Dad, and U.S. Government

20 Jan

Teenage Daughter of Google Chief Spills The True Story on North Korea Visit: Puts to Shame Free Press, Dad, and U.S. Government

By Nate Thayer

Google chief executive Eric Schmidt may now regret inviting his 19 year old teenage daughter, Sophie Schmidt, along on his world headline grabbing, secretive trip to North Korea last week.

Sophie Schmidt was one of the nine members of the high powered delegation which included her dad, representing the world’s most prominent powerhouse, Google corporation, in the new internet age of borderless, free, uncensored flow of  information to the most restricted closed and censored society on earth. Other members included her dad, former U.S. presidential candidate, Ambassador to the United Nations and governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, and other powerful but very tight lipped hi tech and government types.

Together they have revealed virtually nothing of the purpose, encounters, impressions, and success of the trip to North Korea.

Cartoon posted by hid daughter on blog post writing about her trip to North Korea

Cartoon posted by hid daughter on blog post writing about her trip to North Korea

Until teenager Sophie posted a startling frank, detailed, and revealing blog today, accompanied by typical American teenage bluntness and snarky, that blew away the powerful American mucky mucks scripted silence, revealing all the public interest really needed to know.

Now, really, was that so hard?

North Korean ID card of Sophie Schmidt, teenage daughter of Google chief

North Korean ID card of Sophie Schmidt, teenage daughter of Google chief

The quite entertaining and enticing young Ms Schmidt got right to the point.

Titled “It might not get weirder than this”, Sophie’s blog post began with the caveat “ Pro tip: Max browser window (for width), keep scrolling and blame Google Sites (and this two-column structure idea of mine) for limited functionality.  Proper slideshow at the end with larger-version photos. Apologies to folks with f’d up layouts” which was followed by a highlighted note before her incisive and insightful musing on the Google delegation 4 day visit began: “Disclaimer: I am a North Korea amateur and can only share what it’s like to be part of a NK-bound delegation. Straightforward trip report here: no discussion of meeting details or intentions–just some observations.”

She began with a photo of the North Korean Custom form to be filled out upon arrival in Pyongyang. “Do note #1 and #6: leave your “killing device” and “publishing’s of all kinds” at home.  Got it. We carried a ton of cash (USD) since that was the only way to pay for anything.”

 “Do note #1 and #6: leave your "killing device" and "publishing’s of all kinds" at home.  Got it." wrote Ms Schmidt

“Do note #1 and #6: leave your “killing device” and “publishing’s of all kinds” at home. Got it.” wrote Ms Schmidt

She then detailed the ambience of their surroundings. “We also met our handlers, two men from the Foreign Ministry, whom we gave code names. Unusually, both men had lived in the US, in addition to other countries, as embassy staffers…. How on earth do they reconcile the differences they see between their experience abroad and what they’d always been told?” adding “It was a nine-person delegation in total. We left our phones and laptops behind in China, since we were warned they’d be confiscated in NK, and probably infected with lord knows what malware.”

Ms Schmidt then offered a health warning on how much credibility her observations should be accorded: “#1 Caveat: It’s impossible to know how much we can extrapolate from what we saw in Pyongyang to what the DPRK is really like.  Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments.  We had zero interactions with non-state-approved North Koreans and were never far from our two minders (2, so one can mind the other).”

Ms Schmidt captioned thsi photo: "Excellent Caption Opportunity."

Ms Schmidt captioned thsi photo: “Excellent Caption Opportunity.”

Sophie then offered a meteorological assessment and advice for potential visitors who might want to visit the hermit Kingdom. “I can’t express how cold it was. Maybe 10-15 degrees F in the sunshine, not including wind chill.  The cold was compounded by the fact that none of the buildings we visited were heated, which meant hour-long tours in cavernous, 30-degree indoor environments. It is quite extraordinary to have the Honored Guest Experience in such conditions: they’re proudly showing you their latest technology or best library, and you can see your breath. A clue to how much is really in their control.”

The Ms. Schmidt blogged on a general impressionistic overview regarding the delegation representing the name which is synonymous with free and unfettered access to information: “Ordinary North Koreans live in a near-total information bubble, without any true frame of reference.  I can’t think of any reaction to that except absolute sympathy.  My understanding is that North Koreans are taught to believe they are lucky to be in North Korea, so why would they ever want to leave?  They’re hostages in their own country, without any real consciousness of it.  And the opacity of the country’s inner workings–down to the basics of its economy–further serves to reinforce the state’s control. The best description we could come up with: it’s like The Truman Show, at country scale. “

She then offered a food review .

“We stayed at a guesthouse a few kilometers from Pyongyang that was really like a private hotel, in that we were the only guests.  Food overall? Solidly decent.  Like Korean food, only with less pizzazz and more corn (?).”

This was followed by rating the hotel accommodations:

“We were told well ahead of time to assume that everything was bugged: phones, cars, rooms, meetings, restaurants and who knows what else.  I looked for cameras in the room but came up short. But then, why bother with cameras when you have minders? After a day in frigid Pyongyang, I was just thankful it was warm. Long, empty hallways. My father’s reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open. Since we didn’t have cell phones or alarm clocks,  the question of how we’d wake up on time in the morning was legitimate.  One person suggested announcing  “I’m awake” to the room, and then waiting until someone came to fetch you.”

 

Sophie Schmidt in Pyongyang as a member of her Dad's high powered delegation

Sophie Schmidt in Pyongyang as a member of her Dad’s high powered delegation

Ms Schmidt followed this with a traffic report and an assessment of the local culture: “People there walk very long distances (miles and miles) in sub-zero temperatures, often in the middle of the road.  (Not a problem because there are almost no cars outside the city center.) Conclusion: these people are really, really tough.”

The teenage daughter of the Google chief executive then offered the most empirical and honest observations of the highlight of the world headline grabbing delegation’s visit to Pyongyang—their visit to where North Korean’s access computers and, allegedly, surf the internet.

She posted a picture of  North Koreans using computers which was broadcast worldwide by the Associated Press but given absolutely no explanatory commentary, leaving readers wondering whether these were actually North Koreans using the internet, a capability strictly banned in the country.

She captioned the photograph: “The Kim Il Sung University e-Library, or as I like to call it, the e-Potemkin Village” and then posted this observation below: “Inside, we were shown through study rooms like the one above, maybe 60 people diligently at desks.  Were they bussed in for our benefit? Were any of them actually reading? All I know is that it. was. freezing.”

The North Korean Compuer capabilties as portrayed to the Google delegation and described by eyewitness 19 year old daughter of Google Chief

The North Korean Compuer capabilties as portrayed to the Google delegation and described by eyewitness 19 year old daughter of Google Chief

She continued with more crucial first hand detail, saying “Looks great, right? All this activity, all those monitors. Probably 90 desks in the room, all manned, with an identical scene one floor up. One problem: No one was actually doing anything.  A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. More disturbing: when our group walked in–a noisy bunch, with media in tow–not one of them looked up from their desks.  Not a head turn, no eye contact, no reaction to stimuli. They might as well have been figurines.  Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care?  Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home.  When one of our group went to peek back into the room, a man abruptly closed the door ahead of him and told him to move along.”

Then the teenage Ms. Schmidt offered what neither her father or the Associated Press were willing to regarding the technical realities of North Korea in the information age.

“On the tech front: Everything that is accessible is accessible only in special tiers. Their mobile network, Koryolink, has between 1-2 million subscribers. No data service, but international calls were possible on the phones we rented. Realistically, even basic service is prohibitively expensive, much like every other consumption good (fuel, cars, etc.). The officials we interacted with, and a fair number of people we saw in Pyongyang, had mobiles (but not smart phones). North Korea has a national intranet, a walled garden of scrubbed content taken from the real Internet.  Our understanding is that some university students have access to this.  On tour at the Korea Computer Center (a deranged version of the Consumer Electronics Show), they demo’d their latest invention: a tablet, running on Android that had access to the real Internet.  Whether anyone, beyond very select students, high-ranking officials or occasional American delegation tourists, actually gets to use it is unknowable.  We also saw virtual-reality software, video chat platform, musical composition software (?) and other random stuff.”

“What’s so odd about the whole thing is that no one in North Korea can even hope to afford the things they showed us. And it’s not like they’re going to export this technology.  They’re building products for a market that doesn’t exist.”

“Those in the know are savvier than you’d expect. Exhibit A: Eric fielded questions like, “When is the next version of Android coming out?”and “Can you help us with e-Settlement so that we can put North Korean apps on Android Market?”  Answers: soon, and No, silly North Koreans, you’re under international bank sanctions.”

Ms Schmidt concisely analyzed the trip with remarkable precision and savvy.  “They seemed to acknowledge that connectivity is coming, and that they can’t hope to keep it out.  Indeed, some seemed to understand that it’s only with connectivity that their country has a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping up with the 21st century. But we’ll have to wait and see what direction they choose to take.”

She then could not help herself by suppressing her innate teenage snarkiness by concluding her blog with the comment    “We can leave, really? Oh, thank Kim Jong Un!”

“No, really, thank him, because it was only with his expert instruction and inspirational vision that I was able to make this slideshow.

The end.”

"We can leave now?Oh, thank Kim Jong Un.!"

“We can leave now?Oh, thank Kim Jong Un.!”

googlekju2

“I mean, really: how lucky are they that their new Leader turns out to be a nuclear technology expert, genius computer scientist and shrewd geopolitical strategist? That guy is good at everything.”

Ms Schmidt did a stellar job in representing her country and the new information age, not to mention teenagers everywhere.

And she put to shame the head of the world’s most powerful technology entity, represented by her dad, the U.S. government politicians, represented by Bill Richardson, and the Free Press, represented by the Associated Press, all of whom didn’t have the sense, integrity, and honesty to just cut to the chase and get to the nut of the matter.

If their was a combination Pulitzer prize for citizen journalists, Sophie Schmidt has my nomination.

Sophie Schmidt--Teenage daughter/Citizen Journalist

Sophie Schmidt–Teenage daughter/Citizen Journalist

I suspect that Google head Eric Schmidt is, like fathers of teenage daughters everywhere, both very proud and very exasperated with young Sophie Schmidt tonight.

But I, for one, want to personally thank her for being the first person to substantively inform me what the Google delegations trip to North Korea was really like. Plus, she is very cute.

Now really, was that so hard?

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