What defected North Korean diplomat Thae said of the BBC


Thae Yong Ho has released The Code of the Three-storey Secretary Office, a memoir of his diplomatic service days last week. Since I am working for the BBC, I was interested what he has written on the BBC and there are several paragraphs in which he remembers things, especially about the Korean service:

[quote cite=”태영호, 3층 서기실의 암호 (서울: 기파랑, 2018), 305″]Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il also took great care dealing with foreign press. Having interviews with internationally renowned media including New York Times, Kim Il Sung knew how to use foreign press. Kim Jong Il has never had an interview with foreign press but he issued a guideline that North Korea should have a hold on the BBC in the Europe and the ABC in the US.

I understand his guideline to get a hold on the BBC. The BBC has influence second to none in the Europe. In the US, however, it was CNN who showed utmost interest in North Korea issue than any US media. CNN has also visited North Korea more than any other media. But Kim Jong Il believed he has to get a hold on ABC, not CNN, in order to affect the US public opinion in favour of North Korea. For the reasons I don’t know.[/quote] [quote cite=”태영호, 3층 서기실의 암호 (서울: 기파랑, 2018), 373-375″]The BBC since a long ago has been waiting for an opportunity to open a bureau in Pyongyang. It couldn’t stay still while APTN opened a bureau in 2002 and sending out North Korea news everyday ever since. In 2015, the BBC began to talk to the North Korean embassy in London about opening a Pyongyang bureau.

But it was said that the BBC is going to open a Korean radio channel along with the plan to open a bureau in Pyongyang. The Korean broadcasting would be a ‘declaration of war’ against North Korea. (…)

The public broadcaster BBC is quite different from APTN. APTN rarely broadcasts news with analysis and commentary but the BBC was the opposite and most of the time critical to North Korea’s policies. The BBC starting a Korean broadcasting means in effect it will broadcast to North Koreans.

Following an order from Pyongyang, Ambassador Hyun Hak Pong and I visited the BBC headquarter in turn to dissuade it from broadcasting in Korean. We argued: “So far every broadcasting to North Korea has been in line with the hostile policy of the US. If the BBC joins this, the BBC’s authority, objectivity and accuracy will be jeopardised. Furthermore, visiting North Korea for BBC journalists will be permanently impossible.”

The BBC said: “What we aim for is not against North Korea. It’s for Korean speakers living in the Korean peninsula and China’s North-eastern area. The contents will be about news, culture and sports and it will never aim for criticising North Korea.”

But for North Korea, just letting its people know what the world out there really looks like is already a risk factor which might collapse the regime. The BBC’s soft power is deadlier than physical weapons so it can never be accepted. In order to hold back or at least delay the BBC Korean service, North Korea set to use the Pyongyang bureau issue. It suggested the BBC to stop anti-North Korea radio broadcast in return for approving its bureau in Pyongyang. On condition that it will employ North Korean journalists.

While the negotiation was going on, three BBC journalists including Rupert Wingfield-Hayes got detained. (…) Rupert Wingfield-Hayes irritated North Korea by, for instance, describing Kim Jong Un as ‘fat, unpredictable leader.’

The 7th Congress of Worker’s Party of Korea was a massive event since the 6th congress took place in 1980. Numerous foreign journalists were in Pyongyang and will be soon. Letting one ‘speaking ill of’ Kim Jong Un may contagious to other journalists. The situation will get out of control and the hard-prepared party will be ruined.

North Korea detained Rupert and his company and let them feel fear for a few days and sent back by airplane. The BBC demanded an apology for detaining its staff and I visited British Foreign Office and the BBC headquarter to remonstrate. We demanded each other to apologise. In the end, the negotiation between North Korea and the BBC on opening a bureau in Pyongyang broke down. The BBC began anti-North radio broadcasting in August 2017. When the negotiation broke down, BBC Seoul correspondent Steve Evans felt very disappointed. He is also my friend. While it remains to be seen whether North Korea will allow the BBC to visit North Korea, it looks like it won’t be soon.[/quote]

(h/t to Yeji Kim of LiNK)

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