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via YouTube

YouTuber visiting North Korea denies being ‘propaganda tool’

Louis Cole created a series of 'positive' vlogs about his time in the secretive state

A popular travel blogger has responded to criticism after his visits to North Korea, where he attempted to focus on the “positive” aspects of life in the isolated state with a series of YouTube videos.

Louis Cole, who’s YouTube account FunForLouis has over 1.8 million subscribers, spent a week in the country, visiting the capital Pyongyang and surrounding areas. In the video he says he was “trying to focus on positive things in the country and combat the purely negative image we see in the media”.

North Korea, one of the world’s most secret societies, is thought to have an extensive poverty rate. Outside of what is shown to Western tourists on organised, government-sanctioned holiday routes, numerous famines are said to have affected the country. North Koreans attempting to defect to the South have been executed in political prison camps or imprisoned with years of hard labour.

Because of widespread censorship and known media manipulation, it’s hard to collate solid statistics or research on the regime. However, a 2014 UN Inquiry report found examples of imprisonment, murder, forced abortion and sexual assault utilised by the state. The lead investigator called for the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

Cole has asserted that the trip was not government sponsored.

In the series of 7 videos, the 33-year-old vlogger surfs with women, skateboards with locals and tours landmarks and waterparks.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of the watchdog’s Asia division explained to The Independent: “Reporting from a government-controlled bubble is arrogant reporting that ignores what’s behind the façade. Cole does not even mention the grim daily reality of forced labour and other rights abuses suffered by ordinary North Koreans day after day. Incredibly, Cole adds insult to injury by criticising “negative” media coverage from journalists who actually bothered to dig beneath state propaganda.”

A spokesperson for Louis denied media outlets’ accusations that he was a “tool for propaganda”. They called allegations that the trip was influenced or paid for by the North Korean government “categorically untrue”.

“Louis' videos are an extension of himself, capturing his personal views and experiences of the people, cultures and places he visits,” the spokesperson said.  “Rather than taking a journalistic approach, Louis chooses to focus on the positive aspects of his adventures. This is fuelled by his belief that there is beauty to be found wherever one might go, for those who are adventurous enough to look for it. 

“This trip to North Korea was inspired by a friend who has been on seventeen trips to North Korea since 2007, running humanitarian and relief work in communities which need it.  The purpose of this trip was to join a team of volunteers in teaching local tour guides and children how to surf and skateboard, as part of an annual surf camp which first launched in 2014.  

“Louis saw this as a unique opportunity to be immersed in the culture. His goal was to help, and to connect with, local North Koreans in a meaningful way. With this in mind, it was Louis' desire and intention that his videos honor the excellent community work done by the organization and its volunteers. It was not his intention to gloss over or dismiss any negative issues that plague the country, and he apologizes if his vlogs came across that way. Again, that was not the intention.”

The spokesperson quoted Felix Abt, a business affairs specialist who lived in North Korea for 7 years, who said about North Korea: “if you have no presence in the country, you cannot influence anything for the better”.

Cole has since released a personal response video.