3 mins to read

Western satire, Kim Jong Un and headline space-fillers

Spoof news site The Onion hoodwinking a Chinese website exposes the soft belly of an under-resourced mainstream media.

David Williams
Wed, 28 Nov 2012

China has enough going wrong.

The OECD has cut its growth forecasts for next year and politician Bo Xilai, whose wife has been convicted of murdering a British businessman, has suffered a very public fall from grace. The latest political scandal involves a bribery sex tape.

Now, the People's Daily Online website in China has taken seriously a satirical post on spoof news site The Onion, which named North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as the sexiest man alive for 2012.

A quick check of The Onion's other "scoops" might have revealed the site's tone, with exclusives such as "Tensions mount after North Korea destroys all of Asia" and "Kim Jong II announces plan to bring moon to North Korea".

North Korea seems to have ignored the jape in favour of preparing for a missile launch.

It's the second such "win" for The Onion within weeks, after an Iranian website ran an Onion poll "story" about rural white Americans preferring their president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to US leader Barack Obama.

Good old fun. Ha ha ha, look at those dopes in Asia, right?


But there's a serious undertone here. The reason it's hard for some cultures to spot cleverly-disguised satire is because mainstream news media is riddled with inane detritous – much of it generated by companies and dressed up as news.

Who hasn't read about a poll on sex by a condom company or a bookseller's top 100 list for the year?

The ABC – Australia's aunty – calls it free publicity from media patsies.

The British are masters of it.

One favourite was a double-page spread, complete with graphic, on the world's best paper dart. It kept a London East End pub amused for hours.

(Credit where it's due – they are also masters of satire, including this beauty about Prince Harry.)

Given shrinking newsrooms and the seemingly increasing need to get more popular culture in newspapers, formerly sober media companies are lapping up the pap being churned out by the well-staffed, well-paid PR machine.

Who would have thought stories about reality TV shows would run in "news"papers? And given the average age of newspaper subscribers, are these items attracting new readers or annoying existing ones?

Every PR agency can't be lumped into the same boat. People who know their craft will at least attach a genuine news angle and hope a few key messages will be included in a story.

But too often understaffed newsrooms rewrite press releases of no value, put a reporter's name at the top of the story and slap them up – without checking who paid for it or revealing how many people were involved.

Some media are famous for leading the news with lists – notably, Time's Person of the Year or NBR's Rich List – but these are seen in a different light.

The media should be shaping public opinion. At least then some of the ground lost to reality TV chatter might be recliamed.

Throwing stones

Is it a case of "Those in glass houses...?"


Most "news" organisations have done it and no one is excepted from this criticism.

For example, if there are two community newspapers and a biweekly to write for, a chief reporter makes it clear why press releases are required to be rewritten.

That doesn't make it right.

A veteran journalist recently said the worst thing about joining the PR industry is the suspension of critical thinking.

So next time there's a story about how Kiwis are better in bed than Aussies or the top 10 video games "ever", just check where the information came from and have a little chuckle.

Ha ha ha, look at those dopes in New Zealand.

David Williams
Wed, 28 Nov 2012
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Western satire, Kim Jong Un and headline space-fillers