British travel vlogger forced to deny filming upbeat propaganda for North Korea
Louis Cole, 33, travels the world for fun making videos of his adventures called ‘Fun for Louis’, boasting more than 1.8 million subscribers on YouTube.
His most recent trip was a 10-day stint in North Korea, traveling from Beijing to Pyongyang, with an organization which runs surfing and skateboarding lessons for local tour guides and children.
Cole showcases the country’s skateboard parks, surfing and water slides. On arrival, he is filmed enjoying a banquet of traditional fare, then heading to a 43-story hotel with a pool, bowling alley and massage parlor.
“I’m booking a massage, 100 percent!” he says.
However, Cole makes no reference to the human rights abuses committed by the North Korean regime, attracting criticism on social media.
One says: “Surely this tourism is simply helping fund an oppressive government.”
Another says: “I’m still not sure you realise how fake your experience was.”
Cole has been branded a willing vehicle for the state’s propaganda, and possibly even being paid for it.
Did you know North Korea have amazing water parks? https://t.co/9uGMkl2eQf— Louis Cole (@funforlouis) August 11, 2016
But in a video released on Wednesday night, Cole denied the accusations, saying: “I know that makes good headlines but there’s no truth to that whatsoever.
“I’m not being paid by the North Korean government.
“I do not agree with the North Korean ideologies but I do care for and love the people there.”
He added: “I’m looking for the beautiful, positive things. I want to connect with local people, learn about the culture and the country.
“I’m not an investigative journalist, I don’t do political commentary. There are other places on the internet that you can go to find those kinds of things.”
The notoriously secretive state controls everything about what tourists see and do, with many visitors reporting having their footage and photos checked by authorities as they leave the country.
An inquiry by the United Nations in 2014 found human rights abuses in North Korea were without comparison in the modern world.
They included targeted killings, rape, enslavement, forced abortions and torture of political opponents in secret prison camps.
Aid agencies estimate up to 2 million people have died since the mid-1990s because of acute food shortages caused by natural disasters and economic mismanagement.
Human Rights Watch says “all basic freedoms have been severely restricted” there.