The British Foreign Office is paying for 46 North Korean ‘journalists’ to take part in a media skills course. The FO claims that the money is being put to good use by trying to engage with North Korea, but critics have accused the FO of naivety at best, pointing out that it is effectively funding spin doctors for the brutal and oppressive North Korean regime, the Sunday Express has reported.
The state sponsored North Korean Central News Agency is famed for its extraordinary coverage of events, designed to paint the North Korean dictatorship in a favourable light. For example, in its report on the Ebola outbreak it claimed “The US Department of Defense paid $140million to a foreign pharmaceutical firm for research into Ebola virus and chose African countries as a bio-weapon testing ground, according to a Liberian professor.
“Aids was also developed by the US imperialist homicides and it still remains an incurable epidemic. All people and organisations aspiring after peace and justice in the world should turn out in a struggle to exterminate the US imperialism, chief mastermind of evils.”
Now 46 members of its staff are taking part in a program entitled Inside Out: Working in North Korea to connect its journalists to the internet world. The program is being run by the Thomson Foundation, an independent charity which will run training sessions based around “international standards of journalism”. It began with a ten day workshop in Pyongyang in October, and the participants will travel to the UK in the new year to take part in further workshops.
Although the Foreign Office has refused to disclose the sum being spent on the project, it is part of the FO’s £20 million Human Rights and Democracy program, which spends an average of £70,000 per project.
According to a Lords written answer by foreign minister Baroness Anelay, the participants will be coached in “international reporting practices and the development of technical skills to build websites, using a variety of international sources”. The participants will travel to Britain in order “to see how multimedia websites work at British media companies”.
Lord Alton of Liverpool, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, has dismissed claims that the money is being put to good use, and has accused the FO of “investing in people who are official mouthpieces of the regime.”
He added: “In our parlance they’re spin-doctors. They’re there to promote the public relations of the government. It’s a pointless exercise.” All journalists working in North Korea must be members of the Workers’ Party, headed by tyrant Kim Jong-Un.
Lord Alton said that the money should instead be used to train some of the North Korean exiles, of which there are 25,000 worldwide, 800 of whom live in Britain, in journalism.
Last night a Foreign Office spokesman said: “The UK has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of horrifying human rights violations in North Korea. This project is just one part of our critical engagement to try to improve the lives of those in North Korea.”
But James Burt of the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea was unconvinced. He said: “The indoctrination of North Korean citizens through the press sets out to deny all freedom of thought and freedom of information.
“There is no internet access in North Korea, save for a handful of foreigners and even fewer trusted North Korean political elites, who themselves are monitored. There are numerous concerns over this project and no evidential benefits.”
His fears were echoed by Andy Silvester of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, who said “Even if these journalists receive a damascene conversion to the merits of a free and fair press, they’re unlikely to have many chances to practise their new skills when they get home.
“It sounds like stating the obvious, but British taxpayers shouldn’t be funding training courses for propagandists. Even by the remarkably wasteful standards of government spending, this really is a bizarre decision.”