Giving bad states good media coverage

Reading over Dennis Rodman’s latest visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, it is interesting to see just the latest iteration of a very old debate. Are such cultural trips and events a good way to help open up otherwise very closed societies, or do they give a dictatorial regime free publicity? Or is it both, and is that a good or bad thing?

With the 2008 Summer Olympics there was a great bit of debate- China was using it as a venue to show of their might, but at the same time they were able to stifle reporting and discussion about their terrible human rights record. I boycotted the games in solidarity with Reporters Without Borders, and agreed that giving so much adoring coverage to a regime that kills journalists when they don’t have nice things to say feels fundamentally wrong. The upcoming Sochi Olympics will have a similar debate- while Russia’s anti-gay laws have been attracting the most attention, the country has an atrocious record of independent journalists being assaulted, bombed, or killed (at least 56 since the end of the Soviet Union). The World Cup planned in Qatar has its own issues, which I documented recently.

But in order to break through barriers that isolate countries from the rest of the world, don’t you have to at the same time give them some publicity? If there was a blanket travel ban to North Korea, or Eritrea, or any other insular state, would things get better?

Granted, the mechanics of Rodman in the hermit kingdom and major sporting events is different. Private citizens taking a camera crew and some basketball players to a totalitarian state is a lot different from an international panel awarding a country the right to host an event. But they both have their ethnical quandaries, and it’s all rooted in what is a reward, what is an incentive, and what constitutes punishment.

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