North Korean Media: A Story of Language, Censorship, and Tech

This is part one of comparative analysis on North and South Korea media landscapes. Check out part two on South Korea here.

After the death Kim Jong-Nam, the official state-run North Korean news organization Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) issued a statement accusing South Korea of conspiring with Malaysia in the assassination. According to Chosun Media, a South Korean newspaper, the incentive for the alleged collaboration would be to “sabotage the North.”

The KCNA’s accusation serves as another piece of evidence in a long stream of aggressive language targeted at South Korea. Many articles are written in this hostile manner in the national newspaper, Rodong Sinmun. Kim Jong-Un and his regime maintain tight media control partly due to the fact that there are no independent news outlets. North Korea has 12 newspapers, 20 periodicals, and over a dozen broadcasters, but all of their content comes from the KCNA, which is based in the capital of North Korea, Pyongyang. The main focus of the KCNA is casting the regime in a positive light by reporting on Kim Jong-Un’s activities and statements.

When reading through several KCNA published articles, “traitor Park Geun Hye” and “puppet authorities” appear frequently. Other language includes “evil labor policy” and “fascist dictatorial rule.” These themes of treachery and ‘puppet rule’ stem from North Korea’s historic competition over legitimate rule of the Korean peninsula with South Korea.

Language merges into action through North Korea’s extensive propaganda program.

“It’s externally oriented propaganda,” said Celeste Arrington, assistant professor of of the George Washington University, in an interview with MediaFile. North Korea, despite its isolationist practices, attempts to influence the mentalities of South Korean civilians in its favor. According to Vice News, this includes raining down leaflets, blasting broadcasts, and posting video content.

The heart of North Korea’s information manipulation focuses on its domestic media programs.  According to the 2016 Freedom House Report on North Korea, the country is ranked as ‘not free’ with a press freedom score of 97/100. North Korea is considered “one of the most repressive media environments in the world” through its state-run news outlet KCNA which produces propaganda-like content to ensure and maintain loyalty to the regime.

The Committee to Protect Journalists listed North Korea as the second most censored country in the world in 2015. Internet access is also highly restricted, which means no content from the outside world can be accessed unless the person using internet is a foreigner or a member of the political elite.

According to the New York Times, other restrictions include banning citizens from contacting family in South Korea through exchanging letters, emails or telephone calls.  

As a result of Kim Jong-un’s controlling media tactics, North Korean citizens are deprived of basic knowledge of the outside world which in turn reduces citizens’ opinions to blind loyalty to Kim Jong-Un’s regime.

Arrington says such information restriction extends to basic accurate weather reports which affect farmers and those in trade. “[Media] is a tool for changing citizens’ perceptions where they can’t contemplate rising against the regime.”

Human Rights Foundation communications specialist, Prachi Vidwans, echoed Arrington’s comments. “Kim Jong-Un has a formidable propaganda machine that is constantly telling North Koreans that their country is the best on earth—even as millions of them struggle for survival.”

Vidwans goes on to describe the thorough censorship in the country where free speech, individual articles, blogs and social media are nonexistent.

The Human Rights Foundation has undertaken a combative project called ‘Flash Drives for Freedom’ which sends North Korean citizens USB drives filled with preloaded Wikipedia pages, e-books and films from outside of the Hermit Kingdom.

North Korean citizens have also taken it upon themselves to gain forbidden knowledge through technology smuggled in from China and South Korea.

Kim Jong-un’ regime controls phone activity similarly to how it controls media; by providing only one source of communication. In the case of cell phones, North Korea owns it’s own mobile network company known as Koryolink. According to the New York Times, the three million subscribers under this network are prohibited from international calls and confined to domestic communication which is monitored by the government.

The only way to contact loved ones outside the country is by traveling to the Chinese border and using smuggled-in cell phones. Often times, family who have fled North Korea send those cell phones along with SIM cards and large sums of money. Other smuggled items include iPods, MP3 players and foreign films and TV series.

These illegal methods of contacting the outside world are slowly eroding North Koreans’ loyalties to the regime. In addition to connecting to family, citizens send messages and photos to reporters and activists.

As citizens within North Korea attempt to reclaim the information of which they’ve been deprived, the regime’s complete control over knowledge and media will gradually weaken.

 

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