How North Korean Media Propagandizes Its Rocket Launches

Although North Korean media appears to have gone into overdrive following today's satellite launch success, a look back at previous launches showcases extremely similar patterns.
December 12th, 2012

Today’s satellite launch, the first actual success in North Korea’s history, was handled very differently to what was an extremely high profile attempt in April this year. In contrast to deep coverage ahead of the launch date, this time there were only three mentions of the rocket made by KCNA, with one article announcing the launch, one announcing technical difficulties and one other saying the launch window would be extended. Intriguingly, the Workers’ Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun made no mention of the launch preparations.

Though the rocket was fired less than a day ago, North Korean media has already published eight articles celebrating the successful launch, with content detailing how Pyongyangites have become “overcome by joy” and workers “encouraged” by the successful launch. Many of these are done in the “man on the street” reporting style, with KCNA interviewing regular people about their views on the launch. There was also video of an “impromptu” celebration held outside the main theater in Pyongyang.

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But despite the media attention the North Korean reaction is getting, there’s actually no sign that these celebrations are any more or less intense than the other “successful” rocket launches.

April 2012

As mentioned, KCNA coverage for the April 2012 launch was the complete reverse of the most recent launch – a great deal of press coverage leading up to the launch, the invitation of foreign reporters to observe, followed by almost nothing after the launch was publicly announced as a failure. Aside from one article on the satellite failing to enter orbit, mentions of the Kwangmyongsong-3 were limited instead to statements warning of more future launches and criticism of U.S. and South Korean actions taken in the wake of the launch.

April 2009

The first mention of this launch was made in February 2009, with a statement from the Korean Committee of Space Technology saying that preparations for launching another experimental communications satellite were being made. Despite failure, the launch was claimed to be a success by the North Korean media, with KCNA saying that the satellite was now beaming the “immortal revolutionary paeans ‘Song of General Kim Il Sung’ and ‘Song of General Kim Jong Il’.”

It was also reported that Kim Jong Il physically observed the rocket launch when it occurred, with him reported as saying it was a “striking demonstration of the might of our Juche-oriented science and technology…” Over the next few months, the satellite launch was hailed by state media even more than the first “success” in September 1998, with a mass rally even held to celebrate and memorial stamps being issued at the end of the year commemorating the launch.

July 2006

This is the only long-range rocket launch that received no publicity in North Korean media, either in the run up or aftermath.

September 1998

North Korea’s first attempted satellite launch using the Kwangmyongsong-1 was not mentioned until its “successful” entry into orbit on September 7 1998.  After the announcement there were numerous articles published by KCNA discussing the success,  including one which said the satellite was “revolving around the earth” and another which expressed a message of thanks from Kim Jong Il to the scientists, technicians and workers who worked on the project.

At a massive military parade held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the DPRK, Kim Yong Chun, then Chief of the KPA General Staff, briefly mentioned the satellite launch, saying it was “a great event which will be specially recorded in the 5,000-year long history of the nation…”

Celebrations continued for weeks afterwards, with articles calling it the “first man-made satellite of Korea” and others saying it was the result of the “clairvoyant intelligence and outstanding leadership of General Secretary Kim Jong Il.  Even more intriguing were reports the satellite could be seen “by the naked eye” traveling over different parts of Korea.

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About the Author

Chad O'Carroll

Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.