The Death of Kim Jong-Il: Painting Perspective Part I

After the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il became known internationally, several friends and relatives who had known that I had worked as a volunteer English tutor at Hangyeore, a boarding school for North Korean refugee students, asked me if the emotional outburst and fits of tears that news reports presented were real. But I found that I did not know how to answer them because I think that a lot of the media already implies that the feelings of devotion expressed by the people to such a leader as Kim Jong-Il have no potential for authenticity. Taken out of context or applied to the messages that the media wants to convey, perhaps the tears of the North Korean people seem far-fetched or unjustifiable.

Although I do not intend to ignore violations of human rights occurring in North Korea with my more critical approach to the media, I think that it is unfair to put so much trust into the media’s portrayal of North Korea’s situation when understanding of North Korea still has its limitations since the North Korean state continues its policy of isolation. In my next few articles I hope to explore the way the death of Kim Jong-Il has been portrayed by a few different perspectives in the media to show how the media creates different images of the truth.

In this article, I would like to take a look at the image Fox News presents in regards to North Korea. I have chosen to look at Fox News because of its prevalence in the United States – the channel is estimated to air in about 102 million households – and its international presence – Fox News airs in Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Israel, Pakistan, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and several other nations. Also I would like to take a look at Fox News because of its notoriety for promoting conservative political positions.

On FoxNew.com I found the article, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il, 69, Has Died.” In addition to the written report, the article included a video in which the Fox News anchors and reporters spoke about the recent death of Kim Jong-Il. Throughout the written article, Fox News discusses the sadness of the North Korean people, and then juxtaposes this sadness with descriptions of characteristics that make it clear that Kim Jong-Il is undeserving of such sadness. For example, the article begins with a quote from an anchorwoman in North Korea who, at the death of their leader, said over her tears, “It is the biggest loss for the party […] and it is our people and nation’s biggest sadness. [We must] change our sadness to strength and overcome our difficulties.”

The article continues with details of Kim’s illness and a few comments on his lifestyle:

Kim is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008, but he had appeared relatively vigorous in photos and video from recent trips to China and Russia and in numerous trips around the country carefully documented by state media. The communist country’s “Dear Leader” — reputed to have had a taste for cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine — was believed to have had diabetes and heart disease.

Though I do not think that Kim Jong-Il’s abuse of resources should at all be censored, I feel that it is important to consider the messages that Fox conveys without directly asserting an opinion. Fox suggests that the North Korean people appear loyal and emotionally overwhelmed at the death of a man who uses sources that should go to the benefit of his nation to indulge in his own personal pleasures. Therefore, Fox answers the question that friends and family have asked me: “Is their sadness real?” – No, they could not possibly be saddened by the death of such a man. However, Fox does not try to explore what possible reasons could provoke the onslaught of tears should they be genuine. There is more than just the death of a leader, but Fox does not address what could explain their tears.

Fox also implies that Kim Jong-Il’s death was brought upon by such an indulgence in pleasures that might further detract from his health. But in reality, many people all over the world indulge in various activities, substances, foods, etcetera that would be detrimental to their health, so I think that these comments, though not untrue, have no place in the discussion about the future of North Korean politics. However, the indulgence, the sensationalized bits of information, often gets inserted into the argument and people tend to focus on these tidbits because the extremity is darkly humorous.

Later the article talks about more serious issues such as Kim Jong-Il’s policies, nuclear weapons in North Korea, and the possibility for chaos or new opportunities. The video also touches upon these issues. However, after analyzing the opinions and information presented, I noticed some contradictions in the ideas that the newscasters were trying to convey to their audiences, which probably explains a lot of the vague ideas most people have about North Korea. The article states, “Kim maintained absolute control of his country and kept the world on edge with erratic decisions regarding the country’s nuclear weapons program.”

However, in the video clip, the anchor, KT, expresses, “It is very likely that this young man [Kim Jong-Un], he’s inexperienced, he didn’t have years to be groomed for the job, he doesn’t have a military background – and the North Korean military has run the place for generations and decades so he’s going to have to do something to show he’s up to the job. My guess is he might precipitate a crisis.” The ideas represented in writing and through the anchor reveal the confusion that all outsiders have with North Korea. In this one web article Fox has simultaneously expressed that Kim Jong-Il had single-handedly controlled North Korea and that the military has controlled the nation and all of its policies.

I think that everyone wonders who is actually in charge in North Korea. Was Kim Jong-Il the tight-fist leader that we understand him to be or was much more of his power delegated to the military? If Kim Jong-Un may only succeed his father to become a mere puppet of the military, to what extent was Kim Jong-Il a similar puppet satisfied with his rumored luxuries and extravagance? What really prevents North Korea from interacting with the outside and providing more opportunity and aid to its people? Fox gives the audience a vague report with some exciting negative details about the Kim leaders and the North Korea’s nuclear bomb scares, but it does not take a deep enough look into the situation to attempt to answer these questions.

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