Richard Murray

Reporting on the impossible: The use of defectors in covering North Korea

There are few countries that command more attention in international news than North Korea. The irony is North Korea is also very difficult to cover because so little information is allowed in and out of the country. This leads journalists writing on North Korea to rely on indirect sources, most commonly pundits and defectors. This paper looks at the use of defectors in covering North Korea from the perspective of journalists based in Seoul and Tokyo reporting for the international news media. Issues of defector reliability and verifiability are explored as well as the political and ideological dimension of defector testimony. This paper argues more care should be taken in using defectors and their testimony in reporting North Korea. The uncritical use of defectors as sources not only skews audience understanding of North Korea and its people but also silences the defector community’s voices and takes away the opportunity for defectors to share accurate and truthful accounts of their experiences.

Keywords: community, defectors, journalism, journalists, North Korea, testimony


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Note on the contributor

Richard Murray is a PhD student in the School of Communication and Arts at the University of Queensland. Before arriving in Queensland, he worked as a journalist across Asia and Oceania and as a journalism educator in South Korea.