North Korean TV Had Very Different Broadcast During Historic Korean Summit


While much of the world watched the historic meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea as it happened this week, citizens of the nation arguably most impacted by the summit remained in the dark.

Multiple sources reported that Korean Central Television, North Korea’s state news agency, aired historical programming, landscapes and the national flag as leader Kim Jong Un crossed the border to the south Friday.

The diplomatic gesture led to talks between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in of signing a treaty that would officially end a war that has technically continued since an armistice reached between the two countries more than 60 years ago.

It also marked the first time during that period that a North Korean leader stepped into South Korea to meet with that nation’s president.

Despite the potentially dramatic implications the meeting could have for those living under Kim’s oppressive regime, the news received barely a mention on the government-controlled airwaves within North Korea.

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According to analysts who interpret the flow of information within the hermit nation, it is not surprising there would be no live coverage of the leader’s monumental trip.

The Lowy Institute’s international security director told Business Insider that state TV must depict Kim in a certain way, so the potential of embarrassment associated with live coverage means it is rarely an option.

“North Korean media will cut and splice to show Kim in the most favorable light, and ideally in a superior position to his southern counterpart,” Euan Graham said.

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He said he was not surprised to find that North Korea shunned a live broadcast, adding that “it was the same for the Winter Olympics.”

Much of the current emphasis on diplomacy traces back to unprecedented international outreach by the North Korean regime ahead of the recent Olympic games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

While a delegation of athletes, dignitaries and others from the north made appearances aired around the world, analysts say North Koreans only saw a sanitized version on state-run television.

According to one Wilson Center scholar who has served as a North Korean correspondent for the Associated Press, the primary exception to a ban on live broadcasts involves highly orchestrated events meant to deliver a specific message.

“They don’t like the unpredictability of live broadcasts, except for events that are completely scripted, like military parades,” said Jean H. Lee.

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Though they did not watch live, North Koreans did reportedly hear about the important meeting via state TV.

Hazel Smith of SOAS University of London has lived in North Korea and continues to monitor life in the secretive nation.

“I’m not surprised it’s not been shown live, although it has been announced that it was going to happen,” she said.

Like other experts, Smith described an ongoing effort by state media to “control the message so they will show the bits that enhance the message they want to get across to their people.”

In addition to mitigating the risk of embarrassment, she said Kim’s regime will want to present the leader as “in charge.”

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Chris Agee is an American journalist with more than 15 years of experience in a wide range of newsrooms.
Chris Agee is an American journalist with more than 15 years of experience in a variety of newsroom settings. After covering crime and other beats for newspapers and radio stations across the U.S., he served as managing editor at Western Journalism until 2017. He has also been a regular guest and guest host on several syndicated radio programs. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife and son.
Texas Press Association, Best News Writing - 2012
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