In one of our previous articles about North Korea, we mentioned the so-called “Stonefish Rule” which dictates that any crazy thing that you write will be accepted as truth if it is written about North Korea. We offer another story that proves this rule.
On July 11, 2014, on the eve of the FIFA World Cup finals, a video appeared on YouTube that claimed to be an official North Korean sports news broadcast. The news stated that the North Korean national team made it to the final game in the world cup where it will go head-to-head with Portugal. It further stated that in the group stage, the team won against Japan (7:0), the US (4:0) and China (2:0).
The news story was snatched up and spread around the world in record time, primarily by sports reporters. Papers like the U.K. Metro, Mirror, CBC and Toronto Sun actively spread the news about how, even though the North Korean team did not make it to the championship at all, the misled residents of the nation are being fed lies about how their team is just one step away from first place.
It did not even take scholars specialising in Korean studies to see the news for what it was worth, since as soon as people who simply knew Korean well saw the news piece, the baloney revealed its true colours: it was not just badly made, it was horrendously put together.
Firstly, the news piece refers to North Korea by the name “North Korea” (북조선puk choson). The problem, however, lies in the fact that the north and south call their country different names: in the North, Korea is called Choson (The Land of the Morning Calm – Korea’s traditional name in the Middle Ages). In the South, Korea is called Hanguk (Country of the Han, where han is the Korean ethnonym). Correspondingly, North Korea calls South Korea Nam Choson (Southern Choson), while South Korea calls North Korea Pukhan (Northern part of Han). Any other designations are not used in principle because “Korea is united”.
This is why Puk Choson is nonsense. This name would not be used either by the southerners or by the northerners, but somehow it made its way into the video as it was written and spoken aloud several times.
This reminds the author of a famous story where a photo circled the internet depicting “slogans against Kim Jong-Il photographed in North Korea”. These slogans were written in South Korean orthography, which looked about the same as if someone would claim to have found secret CIA documents from the 1960s, but they were written in King James English.
Secondly, the news piece contained too many words originating from South Korea, which includes those with English roots and those pertaining to youth slang. This primarily relates to the exclamation Hwaiting! which originates from the English “fighting” and is analogous in meaning to the Japanese ganbare (meaning “fight, hang in there, work hard!”). It’s possible that the word is known in North Korea, but it is certainly not used in official news.
Finally, the speaker’s lips do not match the words being spoken while the spoken dialect resembles the North Korean one only very slightly.
Here we will also add that the major FIFA matches were broadcast in North Korea, even if there was a delay of between one and one-and-a-half days. This means that the North Korean fans were very well aware of who was playing whom.
Incidentally, this was by far not the first attempt at presenting the topic of football wrapped in anti-North Korean propaganda. Four years ago during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where North Korea qualified, the hostile media broke out with a whole slew of baloney. It was stated that Chinese people were paid to act like North Korean spectators, that the devastating match against Brazil (7:0) was not aired live at all and that the country declared their victory in this match. Meanwhile, respondents who were actually in North Korea at the time stated that the match was broadcasted and the feed did not even cut out, although at some point the commentator just went silent.
Naturally, after the North Korean team yielded in all three of its group stage matches in the cup, “upon their return home, the entire team was executed and then sent to the coal mines”. Even if the Free Asia radio station that is not on friendly terms with North Korea reported that the team only suffered a strict talking-to, information that the North Korean football players were subject to torture at home appeared immediately. After the media reported that the players and their coach were subjected to “public shaming”, FIFA spent two weeks investigating these claims and concluded that they were unfounded.
One western journalist’s take on the fake news broadcast was that “though this is all clearly nonsense, it doesn’t appear to be North Korean nonsense”. The extreme low quality of the news piece even led some people to claim that this was meant as North Korean provocation. However, official North Korean propaganda is too close-minded to make such bold moves. The attempts to petition the UN about the upcoming release of the American comedy The Interview, where journalists try to get an interview with Kim Jong-Un in order to assassinate him as per their CIA mission, is a clear demonstration of official North Korea. In the best-case scenario, someone simply decided to repeat the feat of a Chinese net joker who brilliantly launched his own news piece about Jang Song-taek’s execution by being fed to the dogs.
Russian media ate this news piece up no slower than their western counterparts, while only some of them managed to pull down their articles in time. A rebuttal or an addendum akin to “a host of western media proposed that the video was a fake” was provided by less than half of the news outlets, which means that for a few days, the internet was teeming with arguments where those who believed the video argued that respectable news sources cannot simply post unverified information on their websites.
It is understandable that in the present case, the fake was spread so successfully because a reporter writing about sports does not have to be an expert in Korean language and the situation in Korea. Which means that, like in the story of South Korean anti-Semitism, lack of information is supplanted by certain clichés from mass consciousness. Rossijskaya Gazeta correspondent in South Korea Oleg Kiryanov wrote that “a lack of information sometimes leads to people trusting the most incredible rumours and reports”.
The “Stonefish Rule” remains in effect and we will be sure to keep you posted about any new developments in the production of anti-North Korean baloney.
Konstantin Asmolov is a Ph.d of History, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies at the Far East Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.