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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Thrown to the dogs

Interesting, if tangled, defence by ST Readers’ Editor on Ching Cheong’s piece which had ravenous dogs tearing apart and devouring Kim’s uncle.

Key points:

  1. The writer was trying to show that China was upset with North Korea, so it couldn’t care less (or directed) that its HK mouthpiece, Wen Wei Po, carried the “dogs’’ story. Another indication of China’s anger: its proxy Global Times, attacked North Korea for being “primitive’’.
  2. The “dogs’’ story was actually carried earlier in other Chinese language newspapers but the Western media didn’t notice probably because they were too busy over Christmas – or can’t read Chinese. Until they saw it in the English language ST.
  3. It was too juicy a point, so it got picked by Western media which attributed it to ST. Then they declared it wrong.
  4. Thing is, no one really knows what is happening in North Korea so whether the uncle got eaten by dogs or was shot by firing squad is just a guess. Obviously, people thought that him being eaten by dogs was a believable story.  
  5.  Media cannot check everything. Even Pyongyang said he was eaten by dogs, would you believe it? You probably would, wouldn’t you? Even if it is not true and can’t be independently verified?
  6. The conclusion: “It is true that a newspaper’s duty and credibility depend on getting the facts right. It is equally true that the inability to verify the accuracy of a story may still require a newspaper to run it because of the tale’s portent.”

In my view, the key phrases are these:

“If one were to read Mr Ching’s commentary from the first word to the last, it is plain that he was offering an opinion of what the latest political tea leaves were presaging about China, not a definitive news report about how Jang was killed. To be sure, the article should have offered a clearer layer of caution apart from scrupulous attribution. Given the incredulity of the tale, the article should have declared the story’s lack of independent verification.’’

This is an excerpt of the original story:

”Beijing’s displeasure is expressed through the publication of a detailed account of Jang’s brutal execution in Wen Wei Po, its official mouthpiece, in Hong Kong, on Dec 12.

According to the report, unlike previous executions of political prisoners which were carried out by firing squads with machine guns, Jang was stripped naked and thrown into a cage, along with his five closest aides. Then 120 hounds, starved for three days, were allowed to prey on them until they were completely eaten up. This is called “quan jue”, or execution by dogs.

The report said the entire process lasted for an hour, with Mr Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader in North Korea, supervising it along with 300 senior officials. The horrifying report vividly depicted the brutality of the young North Korean leader. The fact that it appeared in a Beijing- controlled newspaper showed that China no longer cares about its relations with the Kim regime.

Two days later, the Global Times, associated with the People’s Daily, a Chinese Communist Party organ, followed up with a sternly worded editorial saying that the abrupt political change epitomised the backwardness of the North Korean political system. It warned the Chinese government not to coddle North Korea any longer, saying that the majority of Chinese were extremely disgusted with the Kim regime. The incendiary story, plus the stern editorial, provided a measure of the extent of Beijing’s loathing, which is quite understandable.

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In purging a top official known for his close ties with Beijing in such a brutal manner, Pyongyang did not hide its antagonism towards China.”

So what’s the right way to do it? It is true that ST was scrupulous about attribution – until that last line.

Actually, ST should have written a news report first before jumping into comment. That is the best way to make clear that its story were culled from other sources, including HK’s Apple Daily and Taiwan’s China Times. Then it should make clear what their sources are, if any. And how there is word/or no word from Pyongyang.

The journalistic safeguard is really pretty basic: Report the news in all its verified/unverified glory first. Comment later.


Written By

An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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