Journalists gripe about North Korea’s nosy minders

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Journalists gripe about North Korea’s nosy minders

Foreign correspondents allowed into Pyongyang this week to cover North Korea’s first party congress in 36 years are describing their frustration and dismay at North Korean officials interfering with their efforts to report.

Possibly overeager to showcase the seventh congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea, in which Kim Jong-un was elevated to party chairman, Pyongyang invited 130 foreign journalists into one of the most isolated countries on the planet. Then they didn’t seem to know what to do with them.

Most of the visiting journalists weren’t even allowed into the building hosting the congress, the April 25 House of Culture. On the final day of the gathering, a select group of 30 journalists were allowed to watch the congress in action - but only for 10 minutes.

Washington Post Tokyo correspondent Anna Fifield related on her Twitter account Friday, “This is how journalists in Pyongyang are having to cover the congress: off the tv,” with a photo of a television showing Kim Jong-un delivering a speech before the congress. Fifield and her colleagues spent most of their time in a makeshift media center instead of covering the event on site. In a report posted Wednesday, she said she was upbraided by her North Korean minder, who told her, “You ask too many questions. … It’s a little hard to work with you.”

In the same report, Fifield expressed suspicions over the extent to which North Korean officials staged journalists’ encounters with North Koreans on the streets, citing a colleague’s comment that the same North Korean couple were seen walking by a scene twice in the same day.

“It’s enough to make you question whether the sunlight is real or a giant lamp has been installed in the sky,” she said.

Los Angles Times correspondent Julie Makinen, who was excluded from the group allowed into the congress on its last day, said in her report that she had asked a North Korean official why she wasn’t granted entry. The official said her recent reports about his country “were not beautiful.” When pressed for specifics, the official said, “Ask yourself.”

In a report Tuesday, Nicholas Wadhams of Bloomberg recalled “a creepy moment” during a visit to a Pyongyang maternity hospital when North Korean nurses reached into incubators and waved tiny hands of just-born babies at journalists.

“Even premature babies have a role in the stage show North Korea puts on to persuade foreigners all is well in the isolated country,” wrote Wadhams.

BBC journalist Steve Evans said in a video report posted May 6 on the BBC website, “I was followed to the urinal in one case” by his minders, and added, “Control doesn’t begin to describe the situation.”

North Korea is ranked the second-most censored country worldwide after Eritrea.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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