Panorama: Inside North Korea

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

George Orwell

It seems like everything’s about North Korea at the moment. This Panorama documentary involving undercover filming on a tourist trip in that benighted country has been the subject of calls for it to be pulled from the schedule, which makes me even more pleased to have watched it, because there’s nothing I hate more than censorship.

Since the North Koreans didn’t actually notice John Sweeney was filming until he had left the country, they are more deluded than I thought, since he spent most of the programme talking to a camera in a very newsreader-y fashion which must have been very hard to pass off as the usual tourist obsession with capturing every single moment. Not that it makes much difference, because it should be obvious to every halfway sceptical viewer in the West that something is wrong even with the officially sanctioned visitors’ version of North Korea: the hospital empty of patients (“they’ve all gone to work,” says the guide. Yeah, right. Because hospital patients do that all the time), the generator factory with a power cut, the propaganda blasting out of every speaker in a distinctly Fahrenheit 451 turn of events. It’s kind of scary to realise that such a world does exist outside the pages of a book. And this is only the propaganda version: we get tantalising glimpses of the real North Korea in short bursts which are quickly silenced (“no photos! No photos!” the guides squawk hurriedly as the tour bus passes empty markets and barren fields).

As I said earlier, I’m glad that the BBC decided not to pull Inside North Korea. Because this sort of tyranny should not go unknown. The country is ruled by a corpse, for heavens’ sake. A nation that barmy could, one feels, do anything. Including blasting seven kinds of hell out of America – or, at least, trying to.

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