Two (contrasting?) portraits of the DPRK

First, the controversial BBC Panorama feature. Panorama is a television programme known for taking on the ‘investigative journalist’ tack – the only other Panorama show I’ve watched so far is its feature on disgraced DJ and television presenter Jimmy Savile (which had its share of controversies). Unsurprisingly, this documentary is very critical of the DPRK. Presenter John Sweeney has, upon his return to the UK, described North Korea as ‘mad, and bad, and sad, and silly, all the same time’ – certainly strong remarks for someone who has reported on Zimbabwe, Algeria, Kosovo and Chechnya.

And this one, filmed by an independent filmmaker, taking on a very different approach – ‘not to criticize, but to observe and listen’. This has received more than half a million views since it was released less than a month ago.

Both documentaries have their merits, and are worth watching and thinking about. I don’t necessarily see one style as being superior to the other, as they serve different purposes, raise different issues and highlight different aspects of the DPRK’s history and culture. Moreover, they are both filmed from understandably limited perspectives, given the strict surveillance the government imposes upon its citizens and tourists.

Was it worth jeopardising the safety of the entire tour group, especially the tour guides, to film and eventually release the Panorama documentary? That is another ethical question altogether that is very tricky to answer. I think it is a difficult question because nobody knew what would come out of this visit – if Sweeney had uncovered a new piece of evidence during his visit, or presented his documentary with a refreshing perspective, I’m not sure if the criticism of the methods used would have been that harsh. This, I feel, is reminiscent of the ‘ticking time bomb’ ethical dilemma, except it’s uncertain what benefits Sweeney’s visit might have brought to the world.

There is certainly a lot more to find up about North Korea, hopefully after the exams. I have already bookmarked a few videos and websites! For anyone who’s interested, this is a fascinating read. And this too!

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