PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — While hundreds of millions of the world’s people get ready to watch the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Sunday, North Koreans are still waiting to see the first event.
The lack of news at home is a stark contrast with how North Korea’s made-for-the-cameras delegation at the games, replete with hundreds of cheerleaders and even one of the country’s most popular singers, has been a big hit with the South Korean media and some of the hottest Internet clickbait of the entire games.
North Korea’s state-run media has never been especially devoted to covering international news events. Their job is more about hailing Kim Jong Un and whatever the ruling regime’s latest propaganda message might be. On that front they have stayed true to form: The only reports from Pyeongchang as of Saturday afternoon were about the visit of Kim’s younger sister and North Korea’s nominal head of state to attend the opening ceremony.
Even taking into account the North’s reluctance to portray South Korea in a positive light, the blackout is a bit mysterious.
Kim Jong Un himself used his annual televised New Year’s address to wish for the games’ success and announce the North’s plan to participate, prompting officials from both Koreas to make a major effort so that Pyongyang could send more than 500 people, including 22 athletes and 21 reporters (none of whose work has been seen).
The North’s gambit largely worked. Its all-female cheering squad and the singing performances piqued the interest of Olympic fans worldwide, though the athletes, mostly young and inexperienced in international events, won no medals and struggled just to keep up.
“North Korean athletes are competing on the world stage, even if they’re not winning,” said Martyn Williams, a North Korea media watcher and creator of the North Korea Tech website. “So the lack of a mention is mystifying.”
Williams said North Korea broadcast coverage of every Olympics going back to the 2004 Athens Summer Games, missing only the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. He said there may have been more, but that’s as far as he is able to confirm.
Previous Olympics generally got occasional reports, with a focus on the achievements of North Korean athletes, one or two days after the actual competition.
This time around, Williams said he has yet to see a “single second” of Olympics coverage on KCTV, the primary broadcaster.
“Last weekend’s ‘International Sports News’ program featured a cycle race from Dubai, European basketball and European football, but no Olympics,” he noted. “In the evening news each evening, the Olympics have not been mentioned except in the context of the North Korean party delegation attending events. Even then, no video has been broadcast. It’s been covered with still images.”
The absence of video might suggest a rights’ issue — which is a legalistic can of worms.
Two people involved with Olympic broadcast rights for the SBS network, initially the official rights holder for the whole peninsula, said their network returned rights for the North to broadcast the games directly to the International Olympic Committee, but were not sure if Pyongyang had requested permission to use them. Previously, the North would have gone through the non-profit Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, but concerns over possible sanctions violations might have made the IOC route more feasible.
Even so, broadcast rights restrict only video and reporting done within IOC-designated venues. Reports from “outside the rings” are fair game.
The country’s newspapers and its state-run news agency, KCNA, have also steered clear of the games, though written stories and still photographs are not subject to the same restrictions as television. KCNA’s top stories Saturday afternoon were — typically — a report about the anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s birth being observed last month in Russia, Mongolia and Guinea, and another about Kim Jong Un’s work being posted on an African website.
With no one commenting in public, it’s hard to say anything definitively what Pyongyang is thinking.
But North Korean authorities maintain tight control about what does and does not go on the airwaves. It’s possible they’re waiting to see how the high-level interaction between North and South goes before they decide how — or if — to show anything from the Olympics themselves.
The closing ceremony will be attended by a senior government official who was formerly in charge of the North’s military intelligence bureau. He’s set to arrive just before the ceremony for a three-day stay.
Pyeongchang organizers claim roughly 300 million people — including 10 million in South Korea alone — watched some part of the games’ Feb. 9 opening ceremony, which was broadcast live around the world.
North Korea has the capability to do live broadcasts, but uses it very sparingly.
KCTV broadcast the 2011 funeral of Kim Jong Un’s father in real time. For the past five years or so it has regularly gone live for military parades on Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square and fireworks displays on New Year’s eve. It is possible the broadcasts employ time delays of a few seconds or more.
The only time it’s believed to have broadcast an international sports event live on its main channel was the North Korea-Portugal match in the 2010 World Cup. And that might be why they haven’t done any since.
Portugal won, 7-0.
AP writer Youkyung Lee contributed to this story from Seoul. Eric Talmadge, the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief, is on assignment in Pyeongchang covering the Olympics. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @erictalmadge. Follow Lee on Twitter at @YKLeeAP
NEW DELHI (AP) — The U.S. president’s son heaped praise on the Indian media and complained of coverage at home, as he neared the end of a whirlwind trip across India promoting Trump-brand luxury real estate.
Donald Trump Jr. said at an Indian business summit Friday that life since his father’s election “has been difficult from a family standpoint,” but that he’d enjoyed the coverage he’d received during this trip.
“I love the Indian media. They are so mild and nice,” he said to audience laughter, describing how he felt his comments have at times been twisted by some U.S. news outlets. Even when Indian outlets are aggressive in their coverage: “They’ve at least been fair,” he said.
Trump has met only with Indian reporters carefully selected by his team, and the media coverage of his visit often focused on the promised luxury of the real estate developments he is selling.
With summer already approaching, New Delhi is far too warm for cozy fires, but flames flickered on a video screen behind Trump Jr. as he was interviewed by a TV anchor with the channel co-hosting the Global Business Summit.
His speech was retitled by conference organizers only hours before it was delivered amid criticism he was pushing an ethics boundary by talking about foreign policy during a private trip focused on the family business. Very quickly, “Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: The Era of Cooperation” became “A Fireside Chat with Donald Trump Jr. “
Critics had said an international relations speech, especially while sharing a platform with Indian government officials, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was problematic because of the implication that he has his father’s ear.
“I am concerned that Mr. Trump’s speech will send the mistaken message that he is speaking on behalf of the president, the administration or the United States government, not as a private individual, or that he is communicating official American policy,” Sen. Robert Menendez, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a letter earlier this week to the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.
Menendez said he expected the U.S. State Department and the embassy would treat Trump Jr. like any other American on private business.
On Thursday, White House spokeswoman Lindsay E. Walters said the Trump administration “takes seriously its obligation to ensure that government resources are not used to provide a private benefit to anyone.”
The State Department and the White House have said the only support that was given for the trip was related to Secret Service protection for Trump Jr.
His India visit has already raised ethical concerns.
President Trump has pledged to stay away from any new foreign business deals during his term in office to avoid potential ethical conflicts. While the projects that Trump Jr. is promoting in India were inked before his father was elected, ethics experts have long seen the use of the Trump name to promote even existing business ventures as tricky territory.
Trump Jr. and his brother Eric have been running the Trump Organization, the family’s real estate business, during their father’s presidency.
Since Tuesday, Trump Jr. has been traveling to four Indian cities to meet business partners and buyers in the luxury residential projects that bear his family’s name.
With five ventures under the Trump brand, India has the company’s largest number of projects outside the United States. The Trump Organization charges a licensing fee to its Indian partners who build the properties under the Trump name. A luxury complex is already open in the central city of Pune while the others are in varying stages of construction in Mumbai and Kolkata and two in the New Delhi suburb of Gurgaon.
Speaking to an Indian TV station during his visit, Trump Jr. dismissed as “nonsense” claims that his family business is benefiting from his father’s presidency and that critics forget the opportunities lost and don’t give the family credit for doing the right thing.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Democrats are alleging new attempts at voter suppression in Texas, where the GOP-controlled Legislature’s electoral maps and a strict voter ID law already have been previously struck down in federal court and the nation’s first primary of the year is less than two weeks away.
At issue this time: unusual accusations by top Republicans that schools districts and educational groups are trying to unfairly sway elections. Those accused counter that they’re simply encouraging teachers and students to vote.
Last week, Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued cease-and-desist letters to three school districts, accusing them of “unlawful electioneering” by using state funding to disseminate candidate endorsements in the March 6 primary.
Paxton pointed to examples where the Brazosport, Holliday and Lewisville districts used their public Twitter accounts to tweet or retweet messages backing candidates. He also highlighted more general messages encouraging public education employees to “come together and vote.”
“These school districts must understand that they are responsible, as all state agencies are, for refraining from spending public funds on advocating for or opposing political candidates,” Paxton, who has been indicted on felony securities fraud charges stemming from allegations before he took office, wrote Feb. 14. Texas has 1,000-plus school districts and Paxton said his office “continues to investigate complaints.”
All three districts responded that they had removed possibly inappropriate tweets, but Lewisville, in suburban Dallas, refused to take down a video urging employees to use their “teacher voice” to help elect candidates who support public education.
“Uniting behind the common cause of public education is not a violation of any law,” Jeff Crownover, the Lewisville school district’s general counsel, wrote to Paxton.
Manny Garcia, the Texas Democratic Party’s deputy executive director, said the letter’s timing is no coincidence. Early voting began Tuesday and Democrats have so far seen participation surge compared with the last midterm primary elections in 2014.
“This is their track record,” Garcia said of Texas Republicans, who haven’t lost a statewide election since 1994.
Teachers unions and education groups usually support Democrats. Some this cycle also have backed a Republican primary challenger to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who wants to increase public education spending while opposing voucher programs that Patrick supports seeking to allow students to attend private schools with taxpayer funding.
The warning to school districts comes after federal courts have found that Texas’ voter ID law and electoral maps for congressional and legislative voting districts effectively suppressed voter turnout by discriminating against poor people and minorities.
Garcia said it would be up to school districts, not his party, to challenge Paxton’s actions in court — but that doing so would not mitigate the repercussions the letters already had.
“The danger here is there’s a chilling effect among school officials and educators to educate,” he said.
Republicans began questioning political efforts by school districts and educational groups before primary season, including singling out the efforts of an organization called Texas Educators Vote. The group has asked school districts to stress the importance of voting to students in a variety of ways and even to use buses to provide transportation to the polls, prompting state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican, to complain to Paxton in December.
That caused Paxton to issue a non-binding opinion last month saying school districts aren’t allowed to provide polling-place transportation without an “educational purpose.”
Bettencourt on Friday praised Paxton’s moves and rejected accusations of trying to discourage voter turnout, “All that’s being suppressed is political behavior, not somebody’s right to vote.”
“As a taxpayer, I’m not paying the schools to get into politics,” he said. “I’m paying the schools to teach kids.”
Texas Educators Vote founder Laura Yeager described her organization as a “PR project, a get-out-the-vote project” that she says seeks to increase voter registration and turnout without endorsing candidates.
“I think the people that are pushing back are used to people not voting,” Yeager said.
Her group’s website lists hundreds of school districts affiliated with Texas Educators Vote, but Yeager said conservative activists have flooded some with requests under Texas open records laws, seeking more information about possible efforts to influence elections.
“It’s horrifying that this has been turned into some sinister rebellion,” Yeager said “rather than what is expected in a democracy.”
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — You have a firm grip on this year’s Oscar nominees, last year’s winners and what host Jimmy Kimmel will undoubtedly joke about (and the best picture award goes to … oops).
But there are aspects of Hollywood’s stellar night that may be a surprise. Let’s pull the curtain back a bit on a ceremony that strives for effortless glamour but, like any machine, is made up of nuts and bolts and simple human need.
Besides stars, designer duds and lots of close-ups, here’s what else the 8 p.m. EST Sunday, March 4, telecast on ABC will include:
STAND-INS, AKA SIT-DOWNS
Cameras never find an empty seat at the Academy Awards, with a troop of seat-fillers at the ready to occupy any chair vacated by a bathroom- or bar-bound guest. A parade of extras in tuxedoes and gowns arrive hours before the show begins and are ready to swoop in and sit once the cameras start rolling. Getting the gig, like so much in Hollywood, depends on who you know: Seat-fillers are family and friends of movie academy staff and accounting firm. Are there polite tussles to sub for Streep, Hanks or other A-listers, earning bragging rights? We can only hope.
Oscar guests are often hungry. It may be self-imposed, either because of nominee nerves or a skin-tight gown with no room for error or eating. Attendees do have a chance to nibble during a pre-show cocktail hour that includes hors d’oeuvres trays, but skip that and it’s three hours or more until a post-ceremony dinner at the Governors Ball. Not all are invited, which means some famished guests end up asking their limo driver to head to fast food, fast. Advice from an insider: carry a clutch roomy enough for a ham sandwich and don’t fret that you’ll get busted by security.
STAY IN YOUR LANE
There are two paths on the Oscars red carpet: one for famous people, and one for everyone else. Stanchions and velvet ropes separate the recognizable from the not. Famous folks walk on the side of the carpet closest to the cameras and reporters, and stars often collide or share impromptu carpet greetings. The non-famous, meanwhile, walk along the carpet closest to the fan bleachers, with beefy-looking security guards ushering them along to reduce star-gazing across the aisle. There’s everything to see, folks, but move along.
Live shows inevitably hit speed bumps, such as last year’s supersized-one in which Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway presented “La La Land” with the top trophy that belonged to “Moonlight.” Such gaffes and other standout moments become fodder for the host, with a village of comedy writers backstage to help craft witticisms. The best, like Kimmel’s teasing rebuke to Beatty (“Warren, what did you do?!”) feel spontaneous and are out quickly so the audience doesn’t lose the thread. Hosts also need to be ready with “savers” to follow a joke that bombs, says longtime awards writer Bruce Vilanch, who offers up an example: “That was about as funny as a screen door on a submarine.”
WINNERS, MEET MEDIA
Oscar recipients are shepherded backstage for photos and video and to face a rapid-fire Q&A session with a packed room of journalists (yes, “how does it feel to win” and “where will you keep your trophy” are staple queries). While the winners clutch their award and, in some cases, a celebratory glass of booze, reporters hold up numbered cards to be called on by an academy representative. This has caused more than one star to exclaim they feel like they’re at an auction and playfully call out numbers. Reporters giggle. With backstage monitors showing the ceremony, some winners ask to pause the questions to hear outcomes for nominated friends or colleagues. Reporters oblige.
For full coverage of awards season, visit: https://apnews.com/tag/AwardsSeason
SERHETABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — Construction has begun on the Afghanistan stretch of an ambitious pipeline that is to carry natural gas from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
The 1840-kilometer (1140-mile) TAPI pipeline is to carry 33 billion cubic meters of gas a year, an important new export outlet for Turkmenistan whose economy centers on its vast natural gas reserves.
On Friday, workers at the Turkmen-Afghan border welded the first link crossing the frontier in a ceremony observed on video bridge by the presidents of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, Pakistan’s prime minister and India’s foreign minister.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said: “We are transforming TAPI into a corridor that unites the region. This is not only an economic but also a political project.”
Along with the beginning of the Afghan pipeline section, construction was also started Friday on an 800-kilometer (500-mile) 500-kilovolt power line to reach Afghanistan and Pakistan and a short railway to ferry workers and pipeline construction materials into Afghanistan.