While the substance may be predictable, North Korea’s state-run broadcaster is undergoing a style makeover, as it attempts to project a more modern image befitting a country whose leader has held nuclear talks – and on equal terms – with the US president.
Changes in the way Korean Central Television (KCTV) is covering the news were in evidence last Thursday, when its main evening news bulletin had a decidedly more contemporary look.
Out went the somewhat drab studio backdrops, with reports delivered by an unsmiling male anchor in a dark suit, and in came a young female presenter who read out the day’s economic news in front of a hi-tech virtual set.
Martyn Williams, who analysed the programme in a post on his North Korea Tech blog, said the changes could be due to the increased influence and availability of foreign media inside North Korea.
“Movies and TV shows from overseas have flooded the country’s markets for the last 10 years and are now watched by many people,” Williams told the Guardian. “The more modern production values and greater use of technology is a long way from the typical output of North Korean state TV.”
Williams, who monitors North Korean TV and radio broadcasts, noted that KCTV had also reported North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s second meeting with Donald Trump last month with greater speed than the country’s viewers have come to expect.
“It ran reports the same day or the following day, which is exceptionally speedy for state media. I believe that was because the world’s eyes were on North Korea, and because North Korean citizens have access to overseas media. The state propaganda machine no longer operates in a vacuum.”
The economic news segment in last Thursday’s programme included the use of drone footage to illustrate a report on the light industry in the capital Pyongyang, along with tracking shots of factory workers and their machinery.
In another departure from the state media’s traditional approach, the reports featured computer graphics throughout.
The bells and whistles caught the attention of South Korean media, with Yonhap news agency describing the use of drones, time-lapse recordings and data visualization as evidence that the regime “is trying different ways to deliver the news”.
Despite the new look, the purpose of North Korean reports remains unchanged: to offer upbeat commentary on the country’s economic development and tireless praise for Kim’s performances at home and on the diplomatic stage.
Last Thursday’s programme appears to have been a trial run, however, with the evening news programme reverting to its previous format the following day. “But I suspect we might see more of this,” Williams said. “It was a lot of effort to go through just for one random evening.”
KCTV also appears determined to retain the services of its most revered broadcaster, Ri Chun-hee, despite rumours late last year that the veteran anchor had been sidelined to make way for younger colleagues.
The 75-year-old, known for her pink and black hanbok and vitriolic delivery, read out a three-minute report on Kim’s dinner with Trump on the first day of their two-day summit in Vietnam last month, as well as his visit to the North Korean embassy in Hanoi.
Ri, though, was absent from TV screens the day after the summit ended in failure, with another senior female announcer given the job of telling viewers simply that Kim and Trump had decided to keep talking.
That prompted speculation that the summit’s disappointing end did not warrant an appearance by Ri, known as the “people’s broadcaster”.