North Korean rumors: “When in doubt, leave it out”

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John Burton, a former Financial Times correspondent, writing in The Korea Times:

Unfortunately, the “black box” nature of North Korea appears to give carte blanche to many journalists to indulge in speculative reporting without fear of contradiction in most cases.

One friend, a former foreign correspondent in Beijing, said that much of the reporting on North Korea reminds him of his early days covering the mafia in New Jersey. “Some journalists would make up details about mafia figures, such as inventing fake nicknames for them, knowing that they would never be publicly rebutted by them.”

It is unlikely that major international media outlets would publish reports about the ill health or death of almost any other leading world leader, besides Kim Jong Un, that were largely based on rumors. With the Kim story now apparently out of the way, the same type of caution should also be applied to rumors about the widespread presence of the coronavirus in North Korea.

Pyongyang’s claim that it has detected no virus cases might be dismissed as propaganda, but equal skepticism should be given to unconfirmed reports about big outbreaks of the illness in the country. Diplomats and aid workers on the ground have not yet offered any evidence that would confirm this.

When it comes to reporting on North Korea, I remember one of the most valuable pieces of advice I was given when I started out as a journalist: “When in doubt, leave it out.” But that of course contradicts another hoary journalistic adage: “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

This entry was posted in , , by Grant Montgomery.

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