Divisible by Four

On Sunday,  New Year’s Day, just as surely as the sun rises in the east, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea once again issued its annual New Year’s message.  Last year, Lunghu provided his readers with a mind-numbing analysis of that day’s press coverage as provided by the running-dog Western imperialist bourgeois lackey media.  In doing so, he hoped (no doubt  vainly) to improve the quality of news coverage in general, and of DPRK in particular.  Let’s take a look at how this year’s press coverage changed (or not).

The contestants for 2012 are Yonhap News Service, Agence France Presse, Associated Press, and Bloomberg News.  Let’s compare and contrast.

27 paragraphs

1 summary (lead) paragraph [S] (3.7%)
11.5 paragraphs quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK editorial [E] (42.6%)
10 providing context/background [B] (30%)
2 providing reaction/commentary [C] (7.4%)
2.5 providing explanatory analysis [A] (9.3%)

here’s the semantic structure of the Yonhap story:

9 DPRK message themes cited (in order of appearance):

  • place absolute trust in and  follow Kim Jong-Eun
  • call for withdrawal of US troops from Korea
  • defend Kim Jong-Eun “unto death
  • defend the [Workers] Party Central Committee
  • establish Kim’s “unified military command system
  • praise for Kim Jong-Eun as a “peerless patriot” and “brilliant commander
  • no change in the policies of Kim Jong-Il
  • promise to develop “friendship with nations that respect our country’s sovereignty
  • criticism of Lee Myung-bak and the GNP government of ROK

Analyst quotedChang Yong-seok, a senior researcher of peace and unification studies at Seoul National University

Explanatory themes:  internal stability is the North’s top priority [anonymous ROK Unification Ministry official] / DPRK is seeking to avoid “creating a stumbling block to dialogue with the US” [CY-S]

Agence France Presse
10 paragraphs

1 summary (lead) paragraph [S] (10%)
5.5 paragraphs quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK editorial [E] (55%)
3.5 providing context/background [B] (35%)
0 providing explanatory analysis [A]

here’s the semantic structure of the AFP story:

6 DPRK message themes cited (in order of appearance):

  • defend Kim Jong-Eun “unto death
  • strengthen the armed forces
  • promise to develop “friendship with nations that respect our country’s sovereignty
  • no mention of retaliation against ROK for its “insults” during mourning for Kim Jong-Il
  • emphasis on strengthening the leadership role of the Korean People’s Workers Party
  • carry out Kim Jong-Il’s prosperity plan for 2012

Analyst quoted:  none

Explanatory themes:  100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-Sung in 2012


Associated Press
26 paragraphs

1 summary (lead) paragraph [S] (3.8%)
7 paragraphs quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK editorial [E] (26.9%)
10.3  providing context/background [B] (39.6%)
4.3 providing local Pyongyang color [L] (16.5%)
1 providing reaction/commentary [C] (3.8%)
2.3 providing explanatory analysis [A] (8.8%)

here’s the semantic structure of the AP story:

8 DPRK message themes cited (in order of appearance):

  • no strident criticism of the US
  • prosperity is unfolding
  • defend Kim Jong-Eun “unto death
  • strengthen the armed forces
  • the food problem is a burning issue
  • build on the foundations laid by Kim Jong-Il and become an “economic giant
  • Kim Jong-Eun is “the eternal center of the nation’s unity
  • non-specific desire for Korean unification

Analyst quotedYoo Ho-yeol, professor at Korea University

Explanatory themes:   North Korea will focus on its economy and ideological solidarity to establish stability for Kim Jong Un’s leadership [YH-Y] / North Korea is leaving room for the chance of improved ties with the United States [YH-Y]

Bloomberg News
16 paragraphs

1 summary (lead) paragraph [S] (6.3%)
3.5 paragraphs quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK editorial [E] (21.8%)
7 providing context/background [B] (43.7%)
0 providing reaction/commentary [C]
4.5 providing explanatory analysis [A] (28.1%)

here’s the semantic structure of the Bloomberg story:

6 DPRK message themes cited (in order of appearance):

  • the food problem is a burning issue in building a thriving country
  • power shortages should be solved at all costs
  • no mention of inter-Korean dialog or cooperation
  • withdrawal of US forces from Korea
  • ROK President Lee Myung-bak was guilty of “madcap saber-rattling” after Kim Jong-Il’s death
  • new coal fields and hydroelectric power stations should be developed

Analysts quotedKim Yong Hyun, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University / unnamed intelligence analyst at ROK Unification Ministry / Yang Moo Jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies

Explanatory themes:  Food shortages were mentioned with the intent to attract aid from the outside world [KY-H] / the Kim Jong-Eun regime will continue Kim Jong Il’s policies [KY-H] / Kim Jong-Eun needs to prove himself with economic successes [YM-J]   DPRK intends to continue its songun (military-first) policy [YM-J]

Lunghu’s Meta-analysis:

Yonhap‘s approach to the DPRK New Year’s message is just about the same as in 2011:  roughly 40% message and one-third context/background, the remainder with equal parts commentary and analysis.  Yonhap translates a particularly colorful portion of the 2012 message as urging that “the entire army should … become human rifles and bombs to defend [KJE] unto death.”   Interestingly, non-Korean media translated that portion of the text using by terms for defensive armament rather than offensive weaponry (see AFP and AP below).

Yonhap upgraded its analysis this year by citing a [mid-ranking] academic source from prestigious Seoul National University.  Last year, Yonhap quoted an analyst at the Sejong Institute, a Seoul think tank which Lunghu seems to recall is affiliated with the Grand National Party.  Korean media has been giving a lot of coverage to the DPRK succession process in the past few weeks, so there really wasn’t much need to bulk up coverage of the New Year’s message with a lot of analysis: they’d just be repeating what’s already been said elsewhere in the Seoul press.  Yonhap highlights 3 categories of themes embedded in the DPRK New Year’s message:  internal regime succession (67%), policy continuity (22%), and dislike of Lee Myung-bak (11%).

Agence France Presse coverage was a bit skimpy in 2011 and it’s even thinner this year: they seem to have just gone through the motions for the sake of appearances.  Not surprisingly, AFP devoted much more coverage to President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s reelection-year New Year’s message.  In emphasizing the “defend KJE unto death” aspect of the New Year’s message, AFP’s translation quotes the call for “human bulwarks and human shields”  rather than Yonhap’s version of  “human rifles and bombs.” The story also quotes no analysts at all, but perhaps that’s because Bloomberg News called Professor Yang Moo-Jin first.  AFP focuses on 3 theme categories within the 2012 DPRK message:  internal regime succession (60%), economic development (20%) and militarism (20%).

Lunghu didn’t review Associated Press coverage of the 2011 DPRK New Year’s message, so he doesn’t have a basis for year-on-year comparison.  However, he definitely likes what bureau chief Jean Lee has done with the AP’s coverage of this story:  in addition to providing quotes from the message, context/ background and analysis, the AP has leveraged its on-the-ground presence in Pyongyang to add a local, human-interest dimension to what is usually a dry, international geopolitics piece.  One-sixth of the AP story describes what just-plain-folks in North Korea are doing on New Year’s Day.  That approach is important to AP’s customer base: the small or mid-sized all-American media outlet whose readership isn’t intensively involved in following news developments in Asia.

Associated Press reinforces its empathetic approach to the story in its choice of which themes of the DPRK message receive emphasis: economic development (38%), internal regime succession (25%), and appeasement of US / ROK (25%) definitely outweigh mention of militarism (12%).   Naturally, some of the AP’s editorial stance reflects a desire to continue working as one of the few Western media outlets with an office in Pyongyang.  2012 is definitely the right year to be eyewitness to history.  AP’s academic analyst goes right with the flow, citing DPRK’s focus on the economy and its hope to improve dialog with the US.

Bloomberg News definitely picked up its game from last year’s performance —perhaps editor Matt Winkler set out some higher expectations for 2012.  The 2011 story contained no analysis worthy of the name, but Bloomberg’s 2012 version cited no fewer than three analysts!  This year’s story was two paragraphs longer, and almost a third of the piece was devoted to analysis of the 2012 DPRK message.  The proportion of context/ background remained the same: more than 40% of the story overall.  What got trimmed?  Quotes and paraphrases of the New Year’s message itself.  Also interesting:  this year Bloomberg elected to stick to its business-news knitting and emphasize the economic aspects of North Korea’s message.  (In 2011 Bloomberg hyped the militaristic dimensions of Pyongyang’s New Year’s statement.)  Bloomberg’s 2012 story –beginning with the headline– focuses primarily on themes of economic development (50%) and North Korea’s hostility toward Lee Myung-bak (33%), with militarism (17%) a distant third.

Minor translation note: the Bloomberg story cites DPRK accusations that Lee Myung-bak “provoked the North by limiting South Korean visits to Kim Jong Il’s funeral and was guilty of ‘madcap saber-rattling’ after [KJI’s] death.”   In Lunghu’s view, the word ‘madcap’ calls to mind images of mischievous-but-ultimately-harmless gaiety (think Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny) rather than anything truly threatening (Sylvester the Cat? Marvin the Martian?).  Perhaps the term ‘lunatic’ would have been a better choice.  We’re talking about Lee Myung-bak after all: the guy doesn’t have a madcap gene anywhere in his chromosomes.

Happy New Year (of the Dragon)!

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