Martin UdenAmbassador to the Republic of Korea, Seoul
Must admit that this blog will not come as news for those who are fervent users of online media to get their stories out. But as a small snapshot of how governments can sometimes succeed in riding this wave, the tale of the airing of “Bend it like Beckham” in North Korea could be a useful lesson.
I was on leave in London on 30 December when I picked up the report from our Embassy in Pyongyang that BilB had aired on 26 December. This is believed to be a first for North Korean TV – although they have aired Chinese and Russian films and some western animated films before, this was the first western live-action film to receive this treatment. I’d known the British Embassy in Pyongyang had been working on this for some time to mark the tenth anniversary of UK/DPRK diplomatic relations, getting the appropriate rights and discussing the choice of film with the North Korean authorities. But at heart, it’s a simple story and well suited for Twitter’s 140 characters. The Ambassador in Pyongyang agreed I could send out a tweet on this, and away I went.
Within a couple of hours, Skynews and the BBC were in touch wanting interviews (which I passed on to Peter Hughes, the Ambassador in Pyongyang). Over 100 tweeple have tweeted about the story, either sending on my tweet or a link to the various online news stories about it. Some 100,000 people could have seen the news on Twitter, but far more will have heard about it in the over 600 online stories (according to a Google search) or in the articles that every major UK newspaper carried on it. So far I’ve also seen stories in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesia and of course Korean.
My own tweet was of course just the bare bones, but augmented by Peter’s interviews, we’ve shown that the UK Embassy in Pyongyang was able to give the North Korean population a picture of the UK that they otherwise would have no chance of seeing, and also one that has clear messages about modern Britain, multiculturalism, equal opportunities and the value of sport. I’m not wanting to overplay the effect this will have, but I do feel it has been worth while to demonstrate through a popular film that the capitalist world is not simply a Dickensian caricature, but has strengths, variety and vibrancy that an average North Korean would never have seen before.
But the key for me was the power of Twitter here. A good number of my Twitter followers are from the media, and they will actually read the tweets they receive in a way that an Embassy press release just won’t get read. Of course, this was a slightly quirky story that was going to have good resonance, but if I hadn’t been developing a Twitter presence for the last few months, I wouldn’t have been able to get this story out – especially not sitting in my house in Hammersmith!