North Korea: Kim Jong-un’s Aunt Appears Alive After Six Years of Media Saying He Killed Her

According to media, Kim Kyong-hui, has been poisoned, died of a stroke, had a heart attack or could be in a vegetative state

This is hardly the first time that the press has breathlessly reported that members of the DPRK’s elite have been killed, only for their untimely reappearance to spoil the narrative. Last year corporate media claimed that Korean negotiators were executed for failing to achieve a deal with the U.S. at the nuclear disarmament summit in Vietnam, something CNBC called part of a “massive purge to divert attention away from internal turmoil and discontent.” But barely a few days after the media deluge, the negotiating team’s leader appeared at a performance alongside Kim Jong-un.

In 2013, it was widely reported that Hyon Song-wol, a popular musician and reputed love interest of the DPRK’s supreme leader was executed in a “hail of machine gun fire while members of her orchestra looked on” (BBC). Unfortunately for this narrative, Song-wol is very much alive and singing, continuing to publicly perform to this day. And there is a cavalcade of military officials the corporate press has insisted were killed, often in comically over-the-top ways who turn up later seemingly unharmed. For example, in 2018 General Ri Yong-gil, the officer Donald Trump awkwardly saluted, was promoted to Chief of General Staff, this, despite having been “executed” in 2016 as part of a “brutal consolidation of power,” according to CNN.

Another North Korean figure rising from the dead is national soccer coach Yun Jong-su. After the country lost 7-0 to Portugal at the 2010 World Cup, media reported that he had been shot. This narrative was only dropped after a journalist ran into him at an airport. Ten years later, not only is Jong-su alive, but he is still the national team’s coach.

The problem with these stories is that they largely emanate from one source: notorious conservative South Korean daily the Chosun Ilbo, which has a long and detailed history of printing lurid fake news. Yet Western press are dependent on the Chosun Ilbo for much of their reporting. As Business Insider said while falsely reporting that Kim Kyong-hui, aunt of Kim Jong-un was dead, “the Chosun Ilbo is generally considered a reliable source.”

Other stories are based on testimonies from defectors, who are paid in cash for their stories, something that the poor, isolated and jobless dissidents themselves complain gives them a perverse incentive to exaggerate. The saying, in journalism, goes: “if it bleeds it leads,” i.e. the more shocking a story is, the more likely it is to be published, meaning that defectors who do not offer the sordid details journalists, intelligence agencies or human rights groups want, will not be paid. Defectors are not necessarily trustworthy sources either. One Korean defector who was praised for his heroic actions later admitted that he was actually on the run for a murder he confessed he committed.

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