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ACTS OF JOURNALISM

North Korea detained a BBC correspondent for his “disrespectful” reporting

Reuters/KCNA
Get 'em outta here.
  • Josh Horwitz
By Josh Horwitz

Asia Correspondent

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

This weekend North Korean authorities detained BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes for his “disrespectful” reports, according to CNN.

The journalist, along with producer Maria Byrne and cameraman Matthew Goddard, were detained on Friday (May 6) at the airport before boarding a plane, the BBC confirms. Wingfield-Hayes was subject to eight hours of questioning, and is last reported to have been awaiting a flight out of the country with his colleagues.

Wingfield-Hayes was among hundreds of foreign reporters who flooded Pyongyang in recent days to cover the country’s Workers’ Party Congress. It isn’t immediately which parts of his coverage authorities deemed offensive.

According to an April 30 video segment, Wingfield-Hayes traveled to North Korea “on the coattails” of a delegation consisting of three Nobel laureates and Prince Alfred of Liechtenstein, on a trip organized by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation. The men were scheduled to tour North Korea’s top universities as part of an “educational exchange.”

Yet like other reporters visiting the country, Wingfield-Hayes’s coverage extended beyond the tour to include stories about the lives of ordinary residents. In his reporting, he doesn’t shy away from pointing out the country’s idiosyncrasies.

In one video, he interviews several “pampered and privileged” North Korean college students and draws some awkward responses. One anxiously admits to never having seen a foreigner before, and another gets tongue-tied when asked about America.

In a separate video, Wingfield-Hayes documents how his minder (a term often used to describe North Koreans who accompany foreign visitors) forced him and his team to delete footage involving a statue of former premier Kim Il-sung. The reporter also referred to the Juche Tower monument as “phallic,” and described Kim Jong-un, the nation’s current leader, as seeming to spend “a lot of time sitting in a large chair watching artillery firing at mountainsides.”

Yet while Wingfield-Hayes at times comes across as wry in tone, his reporting doesn’t stray too far from that of his peers. This past week, other journalists visiting the country have published stories about pro-military propaganda for toddlers, minders’ preference for American cigarettes, and the country’s thriving black market. Whether more reporters are detained will remain to be seen.

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