Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

North Korea Floods Prompt Rare Media Candor

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

North Korea Floods Prompt Rare Media Candor

Article excerpt

North Korea's floods have received a flurry of media attention that appears aimed at burnishing the crisis-management skills of 'dear leader' Kim Jong-il - and bolstering his son's prestige as Kim's eventual successor.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has personally ordered troops into combat - not in the "all-out war" his rhetoricians have threatened against South Korea and the US, but in the battle against floods ravaging the critical northern border city of Sinuiju.

Mr. Kim, who rules North Korea as chairman of the National Defense Commission, put his own name on orders for Army soldiers, aircraft, and naval vessels to join over the weekend in rescuing more than 5,000 people as the waters of the Yalu River swept over parts of the city, according to weekend reports.

The North Korean media credited the man whom North Koreans know as "dear leader" with acting swiftly and decisively - befitting one whom North Korean propaganda over the years has credited with hitting holes-in-one in golf, piloting fighter planes, writing revolutionary operas, and discovering amazing labor-saving techniques.

After "emergency rescue plans had shown little progress," said the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), "the Dear Leader made an order to immediately put military forces to the rescue battle."

Unusual media candor

Clearly on orders from Kim, KCNA offered unusually candid details. One KCNA dispatch, for example, reported that downtown Sinuiju was "paralyzed" while flood victims waited on roofs of buildings or fled to nearby hills.

KCNA rarely goes into chapter and verse on calamities that have swept the country in recent decades. And when KCNA does report natural disasters, it is likely to be long after the fact.

In this case, however, the North Korean media, fed by KCNA, appeared to want to get out the news right away, along with top mention of Kim Jong-il's role, in an effort to buttress his prestige.

One goal, presumably, is to prepare for elevation of his third son, Kim Jong-eun, as his successor before a high-level party meeting next month at which the younger Kim may get a top post. …

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