North slams South's conservatives' spread of fake news

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North slams South's conservatives' spread of fake news

A North Korean propaganda outlet Tuesday slammed South Korea’s conservatives for spreading fake news, in an apparent reference to rumors that circulated last month over the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
 
Arirang Meari, one of the regime’s mouthpieces, singled out fake news as a phenomenon in the South growing increasingly common due to an advancement in communications networks like YouTube and social media.
 
“Currently, South Korea’s conservative forces, under the guise of ‘freedom of speech,’ are using internet broadcasting mediums like YouTube to spread fake news in order to undermine the current [South Korean] administration,” the commentary read.
 
Referring in particular to a case in South Korea in which a private broadcasting channel was accused of collusion with the state prosecution service, the editorial said Seoul’s conservative media’s dishonest reporting was making it increasingly difficult to distinguish fake from real news.
 
The United Future Party (UFP), South Korea’s conservative main opposition party, was screaming blue murder about the right to free speech with regards to the proliferation of fake news, the editorial said.
 
While no direct reference was made in the commentary to the rampant rumors last month about Kim’s health — some of which went as far as to claim he was dead — the reference to the UFP appears targeted at two newly elected South Korean lawmakers, Thae Yong-ho and Ji Seong-ho, who are defectors from North Korea.
 
As the media frenzy over Kim’s supposed illness grew, Ji claimed he was “99 percent certain” that Kim Jong-un had died due to complications from heart surgery, citing a source within the North. Thae, a former North Korean deputy ambassador to Britain, said that it was “clear” that Kim was in a state where he could not walk nor lift himself.
 
Kim, however, emerged publicly on Friday with no apparent signs of ill health, effectively quelling these rumors. Thae and Ji in turn found themselves battered by intense public criticism in Seoul from both politicians and the public alike for giving credence to unfounded claims using their status as North Korean defectors.  
 
The duo belatedly made public apologies for their earlier claims. Thae wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday that he came to understand the weight of his voice as a result of the incident and promised to be more careful with his activities. Ji too made an about-face and gave a pithy apology.  
 
Analysts say the speculations over Kim’s health over the past month may have worked in the North’s favor, by returning media scrutiny to the regime at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has sidelined the country’s denuclearization issue.  
 
Diplomacy between North Korea and the United States as well as that between the two Koreas remains stagnant, and according to a United Nations report from last month, Pyongyang is continuing activities that skirt international sanctions placed on its economy.  
 
Kim’s decision to make his first appearance in three weeks at a ribbon cutting ceremony for a fertilizer factory last week suggested the regime’s focus on reviving its economy amid such uncertainties. On Tuesday, the regime’s main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, said the completion of the factory in question at Sunchon, North Pyongan Province, was the “first gun-report of victory in the offensive for making a breakthrough” in the economy.  
 
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK   [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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