North Korea Expels 3 BBC Journalists, Complains of Coverage

By Isolda Morillo 10 May 2016

BEIJING — North Korea on Monday expelled three BBC journalists it had detained days earlier for allegedly “insulting the dignity” of the authoritarian country, sending them off on a flight to Beijing.

Correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and his team had been scheduled to leave Friday after accompanying a group of Nobel laureates on a North Korea trip. Instead, the journalists were stopped at the Pyongyang airport, detained and questioned.

O Ryong Il, secretary-general of the North’s National Peace Committee, said Wingfield-Hayes’ news coverage distorted facts and “spoke ill of the system and the leadership of the country.” He said Wingfield-Hayes wrote an apology, was being expelled Monday and would never be admitted into the country again.

The BBC said Wingfield-Hayes’ producer Maria Byrne and cameraman Matthew Goddard were also detained and expelled.

The three arrived in Beijing on a flight Monday evening. Wingfield-Hayes said only that he was glad to be out and would have a statement later. His colleagues did not speak.

“We are very disappointed that our reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and his team have been deported from North Korea after the government took offense at material he had filed,” the BBC said in a statement. “Four BBC staff, who were invited to cover the Workers’ Party Congress, remain in North Korea and we expect them to be allowed to continue their reporting.”

North Korea did not reveal which of the team’s reports it was upset with, but in one of the segments, North Korean officials are seen arguing with Wingfield-Hayes over video shot in front of a statue of national founder Kim Il Sung.

“They clearly felt that we said stuff that was not respectful to the great leader,” Wingfield-Hayes said in the segment. He said they were ordered to delete the footage or they would not be allowed to leave the university campus where they were filming.

Another segment included a tour of a modern-looking hospital that Wingfield-Hayes expressed doubts about. “The children we’re shown look remarkably well, and there isn’t a doctor in sight. … Everything we see looks like a setup,” he said.

More than 100 foreign journalists are in the capital for North Korea’s first party congress in 36 years, though they have largely been prevented from actually covering the proceedings and the more than 3,400 delegates. Officials have kept the foreign media busy with trips around Pyongyang to show them the places it most wants them to see—a maternity hospital with seemingly state-of-the-art equipment, a wire-making factory where managers say salaries and production are both going up, and the humble birthplace of national founder Kim Il Sung, which has been converted into a sort of museum-park with a large “funfair” right next door.

About 30 of the journalists finally got a peek at the congress on Monday, for about 10 minutes.