Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Anti-North Korea bias skews reporting of island crisis

A look at any news website this morning will have told you that North Korea has attacked a South Korean island, killing at least one soldier and injuring numerous military and civilian personnel.

As far as background information goes, they will probably tell you that the North and the South never officially ended the 1950-53 Korean war, and that the North fired a torpedo in March 2010, sinking a South Korean ship and killing 46 people. The shadowy nature of the North Korean regime will be raised, as will their nuclear programme.

Part of the problem with any reporting on the Koreas is that in the West, we generally get our information from the South. In the world of 24 hour news, the media is looking for instant experts and official quotes, and these are unlikely to come from the North. Due to the time difference, this new crisis has been reported as part of the morning news. Opinions are made at the first reading, and the largely anti-North Korean western media immediately blames Pyongyang. In fact, if the media had waited, there would have been time to hear from the North, who in the late morning UK time, released a brief statement accusing the South of firing first. "Despite our repeated warnings, South Korea fired dozens of shells from 1pm ... and we've taken strong military action immediately," the North's official KCNA news agency said in a brief statement.

A similar situation occurred over the sinking of the Cheonan in March 2010. The North was immediately accused by the South and the US, and it was, of course, no surprise when an “international” investigation, ie one run by Seoul and Washington, found their accusations confirmed: they were unlikely to find anything else. The reclusive nature of the Pyongyang regime, of course, doesn’t help the North’s reputation in the world, but it seems that at least due consideration should be given to the North’s defence. In early November, Pyongyang released a detailed defence, pointing out that the international investigation found that an aluminium torpedo sank the warship, whereas all of its torpedoes are made of steel alloy.

It is as yet unclear what the truth of this most recent skirmish is, though that hasn’t stopped wild rumours of Kim Jong-il’s death from flying around the internet. Nor has it prevented UK Foreign Minister William Hague from issuing a statement, saying the UK “strongly condemns North Korea's unprovoked attack on the South Korean island”. Who fired first may never be known, though it can be sure that most of the world will continue to blame the North.

For more information on the Korean dispute, see the menas borders website.

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