The UK, where millions live in poverty

Kevin Kilroy
3 min readJun 26, 2021
An image of the BBC News app on a cell phone
Photo by Rich Smith on Unsplash

The BBC has an account today of the Lazarus heist, the 2018 hack of the Bangladesh bank reserve by North Korea. It’s largely worth skipping — it’s the kind of report that drags out the story for no discernible reason other than that it thinks it’s much more interesting than it is — but if it’s worth reading, it’s worth reading as a rhetorical study for lines like these:

Bangladesh Bank is the country’s central bank, responsible for overseeing the precious currency reserves of a country where millions live in poverty.

And so $81m got through. Not what the hackers were aiming for, but the lost money was still a huge blow for Bangladesh, a country where one in five people lives below the poverty line.

Excuse you, BBC: in the UK, not only do millions live in poverty, but the rates are similar, at one-fifth of the population (18–22%, depending on the specific metric used).

You could make the argument that the BBC is just trying to underscore the importance of the hack, but why repeatedly¹ mention these statistics if your point wasn’t to try to imply that Bangladesh is a fundamentally impoverished nation, particularly when compared to your presumed UK readership? It is, unfortunately, perfectly common for countries to have millions in poverty, and while I’m not going to make claims about poverty rates across the world, you definitely shouldn’t try to use the one-fifth figure to underscore your point if your own country has a similar rate.¹

Here’s another example, describing one of the only known members of the Lazarus group (my own emphasis in bold):

The agency has released a photo plucked from a 2011 email sent by a Chosun Expo manager introducing Park to an outside client. It shows a clean-cut Korean man in his late 20s or early 30s, dressed in a pin-striped black shirt and chocolate-brown suit. Nothing out of the ordinary, at first glance, apart from a drained look on his face.

The only thing that makes this man’s look “drained” is the fact that the author assumes a North Korean citizen must be permanently exhausted due to constant hardships. Other than that, it’s just a normal ID photo.

I’m not going to go through the whole article because I don’t really want to even read the whole thing, but it’s a good example of how seemingly “neutral” reporting includes rhetoric that can be used to demonize and other foreign countries and their citizens. You don’t need to portray Bangladesh as an impoverished backwater country in order to stress the fact that stealing a billion dollars from its central bank would be a problem; you don’t need to add commentary about “a drained look” on someone’s face³ when describing them, especially when you include a goddamned picture of him immediately below it.⁴ I get that stories need to be sensationalized sometimes, but don’t be racist when doing it — be conscious of the language you’re using and how it portrays the very real people in our global community.

¹ These two lines come from two completely different points in the article — it’s clearly something the author wants to underscore.

² For the record, the US reports a poverty rate of around 10%, which puts around 30 million of us in poverty. However, the poverty rates are… generous to the government, some might say. For example, the Census Bureau’s site uses the example of a five-person extended family, with two children, earning a total of $32,000 per year, which is somehow not considered to be living in poverty because they exceed the $31,275 threshold.

³ I would actually argue that this commentary undermines the point of the rest of the paragraph, which is to claim that there’s “nothing out of the ordinary” about his appearance based on the photo — those are the literal words. Of course, I’m not sure what the author thinks a hacker should look like, but that’s a different article.

⁴ I understand that not everyone can see the picture, but (a) that’s what alt-text is for, and (b) again, the initial, neutral description would have been sufficient for that.



Kevin Kilroy

Poet and doctoral student in Writing Practices at SUNY Albany. Erstwhile drummer. Television addict. Traveler. Skier. Papa to two kitties.