North Korea's Propaganda Problem

Why the Hype Isn't Working

North Koreans walk in front of propaganda posters in North Korea's capital Pyongyang October 17, 2005. Reinhard Krause / Reuters

These days, affiliates of North Korea’s Chosun Workers' Party Propaganda and Agitation Department have been hard at work on a massive new propaganda campaign. Their goal is to shore up North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s power base ahead of the 7th Party Congress, to be held in May. And so, the department has vehemently claimed that, far from costing North Korea dearly, Pyongyang’s recent nuclear tests and satellite launches were actually lauded by the international community. Kim has also promised to introduce groundbreaking changes to North Korean social policy that, the party claims, will significantly improve the welfare of North Koreans. In reality, however, anger against Kim Jong Un is mounting among the residents.

It is unclear whether any major reforms are in the offing. But the insistence on international acclaim is clearly a fiction. And as they attempt to roll out the latest work of North Korean political fantasy, Pyongyang’s spin-doctors are encountering a more skeptical populace than ever before. When asked about North Korean nuclear tests, one resident told the Daily NK that “there’s no way we’re believing what they say about the nuclear test and rocket launch this time around.” After all, in the age of cellular communication, even unsanctioned news can spread within the hermit kingdom. The Egyptian Telecom company that co-operates North Korea’s mobile provider, Koryolink, said that 2.4 million subscribers had signed up by 2014. Although those numbers may be dubious, cell phones have assuredly become a common sight in major cities around the country. As a result, scores of North Koreans learned of the new UN sanctions against Pyongyang, something the Kim regime might have previously been able to keep under wraps, over their phones. Even worse for Kim, it has now become common knowledge that both China and Russia are participating in the sanctions, prompting many North Koreans to blame the North Korean authorities, not the international community, for their economic hardship.

In short, North Korea’s

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