Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com
By now so many people have seen “The Interview” that it almost seems ridiculous to think that Sony briefly banned its release. The film is so accessible that Sony’s main problem may be how to get people to pay to see it when anyone can download it or get it from a contact who’s glad to spread it around.
The only ones left out of the party, it seems, are the North Koreans. They may be wondering what it’s all about since denunciations of the film and of President Obama for having “forced” Sony to release it neglect to mention the story line. It would be nice to think that Kim Jong-Un, who gets blown to pieces on screen, and some of his aides and cronies got a few laughs from it, but somehow it seems unlikely they see this action comedy as all that amusing.
So what are North Koreans really saying about the whole ruckus?
Any chance the Pyongyang bureau of the Associated Press is looking for reaction or comment beyond the official statements of the Korean Central New Agency? Oh, please.
“The Associated Press in North Korea: A Potemkin News Bureau,” is the headline of a lengthy piece by investigative journalist Nate Thayer on the AP’s Pyongyang bureau, opened three years ago with a Korean reporter and photographer hired from KCNA on duty full-time under an AP correspondent who visits from Seoul or Tokyo.
“Far from being 100 percent committed to their journalistic responsibilities, AP staff, North Korean specialists and other Korean watchers are in agreement that the local North Korean AP staff are directly under the supervision of the Ministry of State Security,” Thayer writes. They “must filter any gathered news product directly through the all-powerful state propaganda apparatus as part of the meticulously choreographed operations of the Propaganda and Agitation Department.”
The AP, anxious to maintain the image of its Pyongyang operation as a normal bureau, has issued a blanket denial of the contents of the story and defense of AP’s integrity while attacking Thayer as a “disgruntled” former AP stringer.
Thayer, whose greatest coup was a world-class, world-beating, headline-grabbing exclusive interview with the bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot in his jungle redoubt, would appear to have a wide range of sources.
His latest article, on the NK News website, quotes one source with an insider’s knowledge as saying bluntly AP local staffers in Pyongyang “are working for the KCNA” as “a bargain that AP was willing to make.”
That’s too bad, but it’s still possible some North Koreans will eventually see “The Interview” — that is, if North Korean defectors in South Korea include DVD’s among the items they scatter over North Korea via hot-air balloons. Surely, said The Wall Street Journal, “Kim’s subjects deserve a good laugh.”
Actually, the repercussions for anyone caught watching “The Interview” in North Korea would be no laughing matter. Aside from slapstick crazy comedy, the film conveys seriously biting satire. The Kim Jong-Un character comes across as a totally convincing genial fellow who morphs into a vicious tyrant.
The image of a grocery store laden with fresh fruit and veggies explodes when James Franco, playing the celebrity interviewer whose CIA-directed mission in Pyongyang is to assassinate Kim, discovers they’re all plaster imitations. Kim as a demi-god, it turns out, is a mere mortal after all. Seth Rogen, as the producer of the interview program, wins the heart of a stern female North Korean officer, who it turns out despises Kim and wants to overthrow him — a reminder of internal dissent that may someday burst to the surface.
It would be nice to think the two AP local staffers in Pyongyang, reporter Pak and photographer Kim, might someday provide a glimmering of whatever North Koreans might be saying about the film. The penalties for watching the film, however, would be draconian.
In a system in which people are executed for studying the Bible, torture, imprisonment and execution would be more than likely. The silence of the AP in Pyongyang bears out the picture of absolute dictatorship coming through all the laughs while suggesting the constraints placed on reporting from North Korea.
Thayer quotes Mike Chinoy, who visited North Korea many times in his years as CNN correspondent in Asia, on the significance of the blackout. “The absence of anything on the Sony story from AP bureau in Pyongyang really says it all,” Chinoy is quoted as saying. “When the only Western news agency in North Korea has not made any news file on what has been the top world story for a week, it is hard to pretend that this is a normal AP bureau.”
Columnist Donald Kirk finds the film presents essential truths about North Korea beneath the guise of wild comedy and violence. He’s at firstname.lastname@example.org.