Heading into his North Korea summit with characteristic bravado, President Donald Trump says he is ready to negotiate an accord with Kim Jong Un to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. (June 8)
While most of the free world is being inundated with news about President Trump’s upcoming summit with Kim Jong Un, North Koreans has been told almost nothing about the historic meeting.
“They have been told there is a summit coming up,” said Hazel Smith, a professor at the University of London and expert on North Korea. Beyond that, the country’s state-controlled media, known for its widespread propaganda, has said little.
The government has been extraordinarily successful at keeping the country’s citizens isolated from the tsunami of information washing over much of the globe.
The Internet is banned and the country’s newspaper and broadcast media are controlled by Kim’s government. Reading or watching foreign media is illegal and could mean a lengthy sentence in a labor camp, said Fyodor Tertitskiy, an analyst at NK News, which tracks developments in North Korea. Only a few elites in the country have access to satellite television or the Internet.
Little has been said about the upcoming summit and the state media has barely mentioned the main topic of the meeting: denuclearization.
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Editorials in Rodong Sinmun, the state-controlled newspaper, have made occasional vague reference to North Korea being part of a nuclear-free world, said Michael Madden, director of NK Leadership Watch, which tracks developments in the isolated nation.
That message supports Kim’s view of the summit as two major nuclear powers discussing arms reduction.
But the Trump administration doesn’t see it that way. Washington has said North Korea must get rid of its nuclear weapons and dismantle its program.
By saying little about the summit in advance the North Korean government will have more flexibility in shaping the message when it is over and the government can assess the outcome.
When Trump and Kim meet in Singapore Tuesday, thousands of journalists will report their every move live. North Korea’s state media may wait until the meeting ends before covering it.
That’s in keeping with most of the Kim family’s foreign trips. Kim’s trip to China to meet with President Xi Jinping last month was not announced prior to the visit and most information came out after it ended.
Some of the secrecy is for security reasons, but it also allows North Korea’s media to control the message. Live coverage can be unpredictable.
“There is a very good chance that they won’t report on the Singapore event until he is at least wheels up or returned to the North,” Madden said of Kim.
North Korea experts have learned to carefully scrutinize North Korea’s media to get a glimpse into the country’s secretive government.
In the months leading up to the summit, North Korea’s media toned down its anti-U.S. rehtoric, cut back on images of missiles and tanks and has even shown Kim with children in an effort to soften his image, BBC Monitoring reported recently.
Kim is a heavy smoker but images of him with a cigarette seemed to have disappeared from the airwaves in what may be another attempt to make the North Korean leader appear less threatening, BBC reported.
The fact that the government acknowledged the summit is seen as a sign that Kim is serious about making it work.
“If you read between the lines, just acknowledging the meeting itself probably expresses as firm a commitment as you can get out of the North Korean regime,” said Lonnie Ball, managing editor of North Korean Review at the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul.
But most of the public is not interested in carefully vetting the state media, dismissing it as propaganda.
“They don’t believe anything that the government is telling them,” said Smith, author of the book North Korea: Markets and Military Rule.
State television is a turnoff for most of the public. Broadcasts and newspaper reporting in North Korea is dry and stilted. Television news consists of someone reading a script interspersed with tightly controlled images.
“State media is really boring,” Smith said.
Contributing: Thomas Maresca in Seoul
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