International Journalism

Before I ramp up and get started on this post, I need to make something totally clear. So it does not get lost in the noise.

North Korea is worse than Denmark

Pyongyang Metro, DPRK, Puhŭng (부흥) station Fra...
Copenhagen's metro

Very little in my life amuses me more than when someone attempts to wave away any and all criticism of Denmark with a favourable comparison with the last Stalinist state in which many of the population are starving.

I feel like patting Denmark on the head,


This is not an opportunity to make any comparison between the two countries, they are obviously not alike. (Except that their children are taught to believe they live in the Best Country in the World from the crib. But that’s it. The only similarity. Oh and that their  media are heavily biased to keep the illusion going. That’s all though. No other similarities. All differences. And in every measurable way, Denmark is indeed “better”)

The reason I compare them at all is that the British media have covered both countries recently and the way that the correspondents go about reporting the country widely diverges.

Okay, so the BBC correspondent to N Korea knows something is up before he gets there. Occasionally people escape North Korea and explain what goes on. The authorities might seek to control what is seen and thought but it proves impossible with accounts of prison camps and starvation coming out all the time. It would be irresponsible of a journalist to come to North Korea and NOT look below the surface. He peeks and notices that factories are for show and the plans do not match reality. It is a good piece of journalism.

There have been a couple of reports by British journalists about Denmark. There was one in the Guardian by an expat about life in Copenhagen. There was a report by the BBC about “green Copenhagen“. In which, both journalists repeat what they have been told which I think is a bit of a missed opportunity.

No digging under the surface, no peeking under the curtain, no critical thought at all.

The BBC state “an estimated 35,000 bicycle commuters stream across this bridge every day” although it is a  disputed statistic on some biking blogs. (This blog also points out that cycling is declining in popularity in Denmark.)

The BBC then goes on to praise how green Copenhagen is, in terms of shopping, dining and hoteling. It does not point out that the pig farming industry‘s carbon footprint cancels out all the good work done by sustainable Copenhageners (and indeed by all those pretty windmills too). It does not point out that all rubbish is burned (Even plastic. Even recycling), and this results in massive carbon emissions.

Sure, Copenhagen does have some hippy-dippy areas which allow you to live more sustainably but the whole city isn’t “green” as such and the country is definitely not. There are major areas that need improvement but I do not see them doing so without encouragement.

Wouldn’t it be a massive loss of face if Copenhagen tried to reverse the decline of cycling? We thought you were the best country for cycling, Denmark! Wouldn’t it be confusing if “green Copenhagen” were to admit that the way waste and water are managed are environmentally unfriendly? So, improvements are stalled. All that can improve is window dressing because there is no loss of face in coming up with a plan to make … shoe shopping … more sustainable where honestly improving recycling might be embarrassing.

The report in the Guardian is similarly hobbled by the author’s faith in the Danish hype.

She states that there are no stay-at-home mothers thanks to the fantastic childcare arrangements. As in, if a woman (or indeed a man), had the choice to be a full time carer OR put their child in daycare; they would always choose daycare as long as it was “fantastic”. I am not sure that is true. A little digging might reveal that some families are pressured into putting their child in daycare even if they have no paid work, even if they are financially supported by one parent, even if, you know, it is none of the state’s business where the infant is being cared for.

She talks up her experiences in maternity hospital and her daughter’s daycare. These are her experiences and I am not disputing them. But to make claims such as “that Denmark can provide such great healthcare and childcare is mainly due to astronomically high taxes” surely a journalist would dig around and see if her experience was the norm? To compare accident/death rates in Danish daycare where “health and safety has escaped British extremes” would be informative (I have no idea, I expect they are similar but I would love someone to check.) Is healthcare great? Consistently? What about survival rates and life expectancies? What about the news that came out a few years ago about how daycare can be emotionally neglectful because there are not enough adults to provide needed intimacy?

She claims:

“The Danes are gradually opening up their borders, but there’s an unspoken fear among many that this perfect society, which functions so efficiently because of universal high taxes, might shatter under the strain of an influx of immigrants.”

I know she cannot understand Danish but really! Unspoken? The idea that Denmark is a “perfect society”? The idea that immigrants won’t/can’t pay universal high taxes?

All of these statements deserve digging and peeking and checking. But she just repeats what she heard without thinking.

The British press do know how to look beyond the surface, they do know how to check facts, they do know how to dig into a story and yet they do not in the case of Denmark.

Denmark (along with the rest of Scandinavia), is exalted as The Place where Everything Just Works. It’s the holy land for a certain type of Briton (I should know, I was one<sadface>). The need for Denmark to work explains some of the credulity.

There is also the hype around the high quality drama coming out of Denmark. I really like both Borgen and Forbrydelsen. But. Let’s not get it twisted.

In Forbrydelsen (SPOILER ALERT): En pige er slået ihjel ved sin fars bedste ven og politiet anholder hver anden mand i København inden ham. En politimand er skudt ihjel. Og gerningsmand er slået ihjel ved pigens far. Det er næppe en betryggende reklame, ikke også?

In Borgen, the drama centres around the State Minister making difficult decision (selling out), in order to lead Denmark (cling to power). Some of her decisions are very dodgy and corrupt but she is so adorable she gets away with it.

The mystery of why British journalists are so complimentary of Copenhagen couldn’t have something to do with being invited to jollies to find out about The Danish Journalism Way, could it?

Or the payment of $123,400 US to a travel magazine BY THE STATE. Whiskey tango foxtrot.

Another way Denmark differs from North Korea (apart from every other respect), is that British journalists are happy to present the state’s propaganda without inspection or introspection. Maybe North Korea should start bribing correspondents.

Raise your game, lazy journalists!