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Kim Jong-il's News Outlet isn't Handling His Death Well

Kim Jong-il is dead. The passing of one of the world's most iron-fisted dictators in recent history is massive news. When you also consider that one of the most enigmatic characters on Earth is now gone as well, and then think of the ripple effects his...
December 19, 2011, 1:06pm

Kim Jong-il is dead. The passing of one of the world’s most iron-fisted dictators in recent history is massive news. When you also consider that one of the most enigmatic characters on Earth is now gone as well, and then think of the ripple effects his death will have on the global sunglasses, leisure suit and satire industries—not to mention the blow Hennessy is about to take to its balance sheet—the passing of Jong-Il at 69 will likely be firmly planted on the front pages of news sites for some time to come.

That includes the site of North Korea’s lone news outlet, the Korean Central News Agency. Right now, with flashing gun sights galore, there are no less than ten main-page stories relating to Jong-Il’s passing. The question that needs to be asked is, on the most important day of its existence, how is the sole news outlet in North Korea handling the coverage?

Some stories in the KCNA feed (the site has no permalinks, so I’ve linked to screenshots of the stories) seem to have appeared with an almost bumbling haphazardness. The “Notice of National Funeral Committee” is nothing but a reprint of a press release sent out with an impressive quickness by the National Funeral Committee. It’s no surprise that, in North Korea’s insane, egocentric bureaucracy, a funeral committee was already ready to rock upon Jong-Il’s death. Nor is it a surprise that during a country-wide three minutes of silence "all locomotives and vessels will blow sirens all at once," and that the hordes of "foreign mourning delegations will not be received."

This is from a video of wailing mourners the KCNA released. My guess is he’s feeling ‘indifferent.’

But posted right after the funeral committee’s release announcing the funeral plans, another post appeared announcing the formation of the committee itself. What’s really strange is that “National Funeral Committee Formed” is less an article worthy of a state-controlled news service and more a role call of the couple hundred names—real or not—that are to make up the prestigious funeral committee. Which, of course, is already putting out press releases.

But the hacked-together nuts-and-bolts stories like those announcing the formation of already-formed committees aren’t anything new in newsrooms anywhere. An intern probably wrote it. We must save judgment of the KCNA’s news coverage until we get to the meat and potatoes: the editorials.

The scariest thing about a Gollum halfheartedly slapping the ground while making noises like her voice box was blowtorched is that it might have happened.

The KCNA’s lead remembrance piece, “Kim Jong-il Will Always Live,” is a concise 251 words of strength focusing on how the "DPRK is overcome with bitter sorrow at the demise of the father of the nation who had energetically worked day and night for prosperity of the socialist homeland and the happiness of people all his life." Apparently, the death of Jong Il is better nourishment than even the food North Korea’s citizens lack, as the people are "resolutely rising up to change their sorrow into great strength and courage with the noble sense of moral obligation and immovable faith and will to hold Kim Jong-il in high esteem forever and glorify his feats for all ages." With this pledge to always remember Jong-Il as the wonderful, sometimes-stern-but-always-loving provider that he was, Jong-Il’s immortality is just as ensured as were a dozen holes-in-one in each of his golf outings.

The passing hasn’t all been easy, as indicated by the numerous sources quoted in the well-researched “Pyongyangites Call Kim Jong-il in Chocking (sic) Voices.” The piece is apparently tasked with finding mourners of Jong-Il; it’s fitting that, the KCNA’s word-thrift style aside, the piece is eight sentences long including four unattributed exclamatory opening quotes. It reads like first year community college fiction, written by an "art person" who once flipped through a few pages of Bukowski’s poetry, that’s focused on his or her "tough relationship" with a generic dad.

“When do we get our lunch?”

Seriously, enjoy these quotes, which represent "the voices of grief heard from among all Pyongyangites, young and old, men and women, at the sad news of demise of leader Kim Jong-il which came like a bolt from the blue."

“Father!”
“General, don’t go!”
“General has not passed away.”
“General, our father!”

As odd as the post-death coverage has been, we ought to give the KCNA a pass as they were surely not as prepared for such shocking news as the National Funeral Committee was. If we’re feeling generous (and we should because it’s not easy being a writer for a dictator’s mouthpiece in a starving country under threat of generations of torture) we can chalk up the KCNA’s lackluster coverage to bewildered grief. The true analysis of their journalistic chops should come over how the outlet handled the biggest story it will ever see as it unfolded. As always in North Korea, it was quizzical.

Now I know this is fake. North Korea doesn’t have old people.

At some point in the morning of December 19, local time, the KCNA alleged to the breaking story with “Important Notice to Be Released,” a one-line article reading "An important notice will be released at this noon." Now, perhaps the KCNA has a huge number of voracious readers who demand up-to-the-minute news, and thus felt it required it needed to buy time by announcing an announcement. Or is that just how the DPRK’s bureaucracy works?

The real announcement, “Kim Jong-il Passes Away,” is a succinct two paragraphs stating that Jong-Il died from "a great mental and physical strain" on Saturday morning. Interestingly, the story notes that a quartet of military and government agencies released a notice on Saturday "informing the WPK members, servicepersons and all other people of his passing away." Despite the news being out, the KCNA took two days to write a two sentence eulogy, half of which was an admission that it was two days late bringing the news. The KCNA followed its own announcement with a reprint of the press release from days prior.

Speaking of fake, this was the worst crying performance I’ve ever seen.

Interestingly enough, the one story offered by the KCNA with any insight is the wonderfully-headlined “Medical Analysis of Kim Jong-il’s Demise,” which makes it seem that all of Jong-Il’s shortcomings—including that whole part about him getting rich off of aid as his isolated, beaten people starved—were only left unresolved because some insidious medical conspiracy tore him down. The article does mention the cause of Jong-Il’s death, which seems to have been a heart attack on a train.

So the KCNA at least (potentially) got Jong-Il’s cause of death right. More impressively, the agency found a few (unnamed) wailing mourners within North Korea’s millions of citizens. But in terms of all-important deaths, KCNA’s coverage is lacking. There’s no bold-type headline of loss, like "Dear Leader, You Will Be Missed. Signed, Us," that will make its mark on the annals of history. Worse, the stories themselves seem almost completely without loss.

In the end, should we admonish the KCNA for its wimpy coverage, or laud its intrepid reporters for even making it in to work on such a depressing day? Well, let’s be honest: neither praise nor criticism really matters. No one from the KCNA would even be allowed to read this anyway.

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