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North Korea's propaganda playground

Rory Cellan-Jones | 12:53 UK time, Friday, 20 August 2010

Who is the latest star user of social networking tools like YouTube and Twitter? Let me nominate an unlikely candidate: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as North Korea likes to style itself. Perhaps the world's most repressive and closed country, it's set forth on a surprising journey into new media, with a YouTube account and a Twitter feed at @uriminzok.

On a quiet news day, I tapped into the North Korean tweets this morning - and found that most of them were in Korean, leaving me none the wiser. Sticking one block of text into Google Translate produced this: "Great Comrade Kim Jong Il started his revolutionary leadership..."; I think you get the flavour.

North Korea on YouTubeBut what really caught my eye was a link to this extraordinary YouTube video. As a colleague put it, it seems to be a kind of Korean West Side Story, and could end up as a viral hit.

What, though, is the point of this activity for a repressive regime that does not allow its own citizens to use anything but a sanitised version of the internet? The answer, it seems, is to wind up South Korea, and it seems to have worked. The South Korean government warned its citizens away from the propaganda on the North's Twitter and YouTube accounts, then tried to block access to them.

Some hoped that web 2.0 would be all about setting the masses free to express themselves. But for some governments, the likes of Twitter and YouTube just provide another propaganda playground.


  • Comment number 1.

    North Korea's propaganda playground, or the US propaganda playground?
    1. North Korea as you say is one of the world's most private and closed countries.
    2. @uriminzok: is the United States Codes for other countries account and a Twitter feed. The Twitter account, which opened last Thursday under the name uriminzok, which supposedly means “our nation” in Korean, has garnered more than 3000... Uriminzok is an "English" word that doesn't translate into anything in Korean. Our Nation in Korean is "우리 민족", and one has to wonder why the Korean wasn't used IF this propaganda was being aimed at South Korea.
    3. I have never heard Kim Jong Il addressed as "Great Comrade Kim Jong Il"; rather, he is generally addressed as "Dear Leader".
    4. The "extraordinary YouTube video" shows American choreography; whereas North Korean choreography would be less West Side Story and more military precission. If you watch the video closely, sometimes the dancers are not aligned perfectly. Would "Dear Leader" release such a sloppy video, or would this video be "perfect".
    5. What is the point of this activity...The answer, it seems, is to wind up South Korea and it seems to have worked. If South Korea cannot tell a genuine North Korean video from an evident fake, if it wastes the time in trying to block this video (and others like it), some South Korean technocrat has too much time on his hands, or is following instructions from the United States.
    5. Propaganda playground, but whose?

  • Comment number 2.

    An interesting post. Although very entertaining to watch it is too sad to think how oppressed and deluded these poor people really are. It would be wonderful to think that these people could be liberated and brought into the 21st century but that of course has it's own set of issues.

  • Comment number 3.

    To Bluesberry:

    2. Uriminzok is a romanised phonetic representation of the utterance ‘우리민족’, which more accurately translates to 'our race' or 'our people'. As for the English ID, it is common in Korea, indeed most of Asia, that when signing in to any online account to use English characters. Often the software will not allow a Hangeul (Korean alphabet) id. Check out any youtube video from Korea – most have English usernames.

    3. Just because YOU have never heard of it, does that mean it doesn’t occur?

    4. American choreography??? What in this piece denotes an American style dance? What does that even mean? In fact, there are certain movements throughout this piece (2.40-3.15 in particular) that are distinctly Korean in style – the kind of movements that can commonly be seen in several of the traditional forms of Korean dance.

    5. Why would the US or ROK waste money and time on a piece (which is actually quite impressive to watch regardless of the politics) that celebrates the leader of DPRK? Just to ridicule it? That doesn’t make any sense! I am not suggesting that ROK/US don’t play their own propagandist games when it comes to the North – ROK media certainly do – but your final inference is a bit of a stretch, no?

  • Comment number 4.

    It's genuine. 100%. I know because I have been there and seen shows like this. The music is North Korea Top 40. There is no No. 41. (There are only +/- 40 songs in the country it seems because they are all written by the Pyongyang Music Company) The staging and choreography is classic, straight out of the 50s, which is probably the last time the producers saw anything from the West. The only things phoney are the smiles on the performers.

  • Comment number 5.

    Rory Cellan-Jones.

    "..the Democratic People's Republic of Korea ... the world's most repressive and closed country.."

    luckily, I'm in the United Kingdom, the world's foremost surveillance society. :-)

  • Comment number 6.

    This is an appalling abuse of blogspace to launch a lazy attack on a country to try and stereotype its people. I would call it Western propaganda, but it isn't that good. Stick to technology, oh, you're no good at that either. Reporting about a few tweets and calling it a blog about technology?!?!

  • Comment number 7.

    Oh, ignore BluesBerry, he's usually posting conspiracy theories over at Richard Black's blog. Anyone heard his ideas about HAARP? I've never known ionospheric research to be so sinister.

    Interesting that South Korea has deemed it necessary to block access to the Twitter feeds and Youtube videos. Surely the government there prides itself on its citizens having the freedom to look up (and talk about) any information they want - as an educated populace I would have imagined that most South Koreans would see these videos and tweets and know exactly what they were.

  • Comment number 8.

    There's something disturbingly compelling about this video, but I can't work out what it is - Wait - Of course, I've just realised - I'm a Divine Ruler too, so this is right up my street. All I need to do is find a smallish independent nation state, provoke a bit of a civil war, then step-in, take control of half the country, subjugate the population using violence, torture, starvation and so on, then rule over them using a spurious proto-mystical political premise for over half a century, and I've got it made!

    And to think I nearly missed this and went down the pub!

  • Comment number 9.

    Who's the idiot whom thinks that this was American made to look like N.K. propaganda!? The Latin Alphabet is used so that it appeals to Westerners like BluesBerry. Do I think that S.K. is over reacting? Of course. How would South Korea be any more moral than the North if it started regulating it's net. However, this was made for South Koreans, Japanese, Americans, Europeans, and,....Venezualians.....O.o

  • Comment number 10.

    Blueberry - the writer of this article arrived at his translation 'Great Comrade Kim Jong-il' via Google Translate which explains why the translation is somewhat awkward. I would imagine that the Korean itself reads naturally.


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