Covering the Korean Peninsula’s Peace Agenda

Before I get in to the main part of my speech, regarding to the Korean Peninsula issue, I would like to share some of my basic principles in working as a journalist.

The main reason why I would like to work as a journalist is because I cannot, or it is hard for me to, believe in any story that I read, watch or listen. It is not because I simply don’t believe the source, the person, and the media company.

It is because I think and believe that as a human being anyone has a natural difficulty that cannot be solved until today, i.e. any of human being cannot be at more than one place at one time.

Any human being live in his or her time and space. When something happens outside, we depend on someone or agents to let us know about what happened. Off course the person that we depend on will tell us the story based on his or her understanding or framing.

In the practice of journalism, that person is us, journalist.  

We suppose that we are meant to voice the voiceless, to defend the oppressed from the oppressor, to maintain the peace and to make sure that there is no one left behind the civilization. 

We truly know the power of information. Yet, many say that media is the best weapon ever invented by human being. 

Therefore we agreed on a set of ethics and code of conducts in journalism. Basically it is a self-made limitation to control us in doing our profession. We all agree, that we have a holy duty that is to inform, to educate, and to guide society.

A framing-priming-setting process; it is what we call as production of information. It is our best skill. 

Nowadays we have seen how the nature and the landscape of information have changed as it moves to the more complex level. Too many information, and yet the time that we need to understand the whole context is so limited.  

In another side, it seems like today we, human being, tend to set our beliefs and values at the first place. And only after that fixed and permanent then we apply what we have seen as a fact within that belief.

It is post truth; when beliefs come first and (the way we are looking at) facts are “adjusted”.  

Based on this primary understanding, I think it is very important for any of us to complete the puzzle of facts and values by reporting the parts or portions that maybe not many or even no one wants to cover it.

Like, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or simply North Korea. 

My first visit to North Korea was in April 2003.

We all remember, those days were times when the slogan of “war on terrorism” or/and “axis of evil” colored our editorial space and mindset in setting values in each story.

In one of his speeches, President Bush sealed North Korea as a member of the axis of evil, next to Iraq and Iran. The seal was also in my head before I departed from Jakarta to Beijing. Many friends tried to stop me, worried that the worst could happen there.

I found Pyongyang was a fine city; quite, big roads, nice people are everywhere.

At first, I worried if it was a situation like in “The Truman Show” movie. The 1998 satirical fiction film starred by Jim Carrey is about a life of Truman Burbank in a giant studio, and every person he met in his life were actors who were carrying out specific roles given by the director.

As everything looked beautiful on the way from the airport to the Haebangsan Hotel in the city center, just a few blocks from Kim Il Sung Square, it had crossed my mind; whether I, or any of those who looked fine, were Truman Burbank.

My question was answered as soon as I arrived at the hotel, and stepped into the hotel room. In 2003 the condition of the hotel was not that good. Not many lights were on. The corridor to the hotel room was also dim and there was only one light that shone right in front of my door. The energy crisis forced North Korea to save on the use of electronic equipment at that time.

I returned to North Korea nine years later, also in April. Only a few months after Kim Jong Un was elected as the country’s new leader, following the death of his father Kim Jong Il in December 2011.

In April 2012, Pyongyang was filled with no less than a thousand of journalists who came from various countries to cover North Korea’s plan to launch a satellite into space. The Yanggakdo Hotel’s backyard looked like a mini TV studio; the news anchors gave a report by standing back to the Taedong River and Juche Tower. While in the hotel lobby, reporters went back and forth accompanied by their LOs to visit various places in Pyongyang. And the culmination of all that was listening to Kim Jong Un’s speech for the first time on April 15 at Kim Il Sung Square.

In April 2012 I saw a new North Korea. They carry out this novelty by not breaking away from the political and social traditions, as well as ideology.

Since that year, every year, until last year, I have always visited North Korea. I am trying to approach them from the closest point. And I see a very significant change in North Korea, not only related to the physical matters, but also related to the attitude of Korean people. They are now more open.

In Jakarta, I also have good relations with the North Korean Embassy. I think we need to build good relationships and trust to be able to explore their perspectives and explanations, to be able to get answers of the various questions we have.

I can convince the Korean Embassy to be more open to journalists and the media. They often give opportunities to my journalist friends to come to the Embassy or other activities organized by the Embassy.

In fact, one of the first activities of Ambassador An Kwang Il when he arrived in Jakarta was to visit the Indonesian Journalists Association office where he had a good discussion with senior journalists present at the meeting.

Regarding to the reunification of the two countries, I think we should realize that reunification is a constitutional duty in North Korea and also South Korea. Their leaders in the past, especially after the Cold War ended, held a series of peace talks in that direction.

The leaders of the two countries at the previous meetings agreed that reunification is a joint work of the Korean nation and carried out in an atmosphere of peace and brotherhood. They expect that the final form of reunification will be the result of conversation among Koreans without the interference of other parties.

As far as I am concerned, the peace process between the two Korea often disturbed by the third parties. Their concern is that there will be a political change in this region that could harm their geostrategic and economic position.

They, the third parties, just do not want to have that condition.

Last year we witnessed a significant progress in inter-Korean talks. The leaders of the two countries have met three times, twice at Panmunjom and once in Pyongyang. This is an extraordinary progress. The leaders of the two countries have demonstrated their capacity as heads of state in moving forward to the national agenda and brotherhood.

I think we all need to guard this agenda, by giving our contribution as journalists so that peace can really happen in this region.

We are witnessing the North Korea with open hearts entering the arena of civilized talk. Kim Jong Un has met twice with US President Donald Trump. The first meeting was in Singapore last year, and the second meeting was in Vietnam late last month.

So far, despite the absence of a written agreement in the second meeting, I think the meeting of the two heads of state gave satisfactory results. In conflict studies, a peace agreement requires essential elements. Patience is also among the elements. I should say that I am optimistic of the result.

My colleagues, I think this is the best way I can do to complete the puzzle of information and values ​​that we need to see peace manifest on the Korean Peninsula.

I suppose we all understand that sometimes and often, reporters see a “conflict situation” from a combative perspective, as if all conflicts must end with dramatic clashes.

Nevertheless, we have to remember that each conflict has unique dynamics from time to time. It is our responsibility to understand the overall dynamics so that we can get a complete picture, and finally find a more positive and constructive perspective.

Working as a journalist should not be intended to explode a new war, which in other words could threaten our civilization.

Dear colleagues, that is my view.

Sharing my experience with you here is such an honor; given the level of expertise I know is gathered here today.

I only hope I can contribute, like adding pixels to make the picture clearer, to a better understanding and a climate of peace.


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Born in Medan, lives in Jakarta, loves Indonesia.

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