N. Korea expels UK journalist over his reporting

British BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes who was expelled from North Korea over his reporting arrives in Beijing, 'just relieved to be out'.
A North Korean minder at a factory in Pyongyang. Such minders chaperone foreign journalists on their trip to the state and may be telling government officials about anti-North Korean sentiment.
A North Korean minder at a factory in Pyongyang. Such minders chaperone foreign journalists on their trip to the state and may be telling government officials about anti-North Korean sentiment.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PYONGYANG • A BBC reporter in North Korea was detained, interrogated for eight hours and eventually expelled over his reporting in the run-up to a rare ruling party congress, the British broadcaster said yesterday.

The journalist, Mr Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, was about to board a plane departing from Pyongyang airport with two other BBC staff on Friday when he was stopped and taken into detention, the BBC said.

He was then questioned for around eight hours, apparently over one of his reports which questioned the authenticity of a hospital his team was visiting.

"Everything we see looks like a set-up," he reportedly said on camera when the people he wanted to interview in a children's hospital ran away when he approached.

In one of his reports, Mr Wingfield-Hayes said his team was "in trouble" after shooting a segment in front of a statue of the North's founding president, Mr Kim Il Sung, in which he said something on camera that he said government minders deemed disrespectful. He said the officials demanded that the video be erased.

Mr Wingfield-Hayes and the other two members of his crew team landed in Beijing on a flight from Pyongyang yesterday evening.

"We are not making any statement now or interviews. Obviously, I am glad to be out. We are going to talk to our bosses now," he told waiting reporters.

For the 130 foreign journalists who travelled to Pyongyang to cover the first full congress of North Korea's ruling party in 36 years, minders are a constant presence.They translate, tell journalists where they can and can't go, and impart the official line on everything from relations with the United States to the proper way to refer to the regime's leaders.

They don't even want to be called minders. "I am not minding you," said one. "We are guiding you. Please call me your guide."

And they have a few pet peeves: North Korea is not North Korea, rather, it is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, DPR Korea or DPRK.

Completely out of bounds is "the hermit kingdom" as the term is deeply insulting, said the minders. And South Korea is to be known in print as "south Korea", with the "south" in lower case.

A minder's frequent answer to a question is: "That is a difficult question." Difficult questions include: "Why am I not allowed to go out of the hotel by myself?" Answer: "People's bad emotions about the US are running high and I might not be able to protect you."

South Korea's government has urged its nationals in the past to stay guarded and to avoid political topics even while drinking with minders.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2016, with the headline 'N. Korea expels UK journalist over his reporting'. Print Edition | Subscribe