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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
North Korean state media outlet the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) has deleted over 35,000 articles from its on-line archives.
The deletion, the biggest ever article removal in KCNA’s history, means that with the exception of a small number of articles about Kim Jong Un, the digital record of state-approved news currently only reaches back to October 2013 on KCNA’s North Korea (.kp) hosted website.
“There were 35,000 articles dated September 2013 or earlier on KCNA in Korean. If they’re leaving the odd one in, it’s still a kill ratio of 98-99%,” said Frank Feinstein, a New Zealand based programmer that tracks North Korea’s online media output for NK News.
In addition to the 35,000 original Korean language articles, translations in English, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese were all deleted from the archives, bringing the total to nearly 100,000 missing articles.
Article identifiers previously used to locate KCNA articles showed up “NULL” results when verified on the kcna.kp domain on Monday, while searches only returned results from October 01, 2013 onwards.
In addition, Feinstein said that approximately 20,000 articles had also been removed from the archives of the Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s state newspaper.
“This is a a calculated thing they’ve done. Across all sites, it means the order most likely came from above each individual agency.
“This is what makes it so interesting – it’s a true North Korean purge, not just a KCNA one,” Feinstein explained.
One expert who follows North Korean media output closely, but asked not be identified for professional reasons, said she was in “shock” about the move.
“Hearing the recent deletion of North Korea’s KCNA records only added extra noise to the cacophony of confusion related to North Korea these days.
“My initial reaction is one of shock at the extremity of such an action, but it is clear it was a carefully made decision,” the expert said.
The decision to delete such a large portion of content could have been made for several reasons, the expert said.
The deletion was either “related to the rewriting of North Korean history and securing of Kim Jong Un as the new leader,” due to a domestic “opening in access to advanced technologies” related to the internet, or due to the server that hosts the .kp sites “struggling” to deal with specific deletions of articles related to Jang Song Thaek solely.
“Likely, it’s a combination of reasons that led to this, but as with many North Korean actions, this only leaves me with more questions,” the expert concluded.
It was not immediately clear if the mass-deletion of articles would be permanent, but Feinstein said that taken in context of other recent developments, observers should not expect their re-introduction any time soon.
“North Korean websites have recently explored ways to reduce the permenance of their electronic footprint with Google. This, when viewed with other data, suggest it is likely these changes are permenant,” Feinstein said.
The development follows revelations on Friday that KCNA’s .kp site deleted all mentions of the recently executed Jang Song Thaek from its archives.
In total, 10-15 articles specifically written about Jang were deleted, with approximately 500 other articles mentioning Jang’s edited to remove his name specifically.
So far the mass-deletion of articles had not yet affected the archives of KCNA’s .co.jp Japanese hosted site, a website run by overseas North Koreans living in Japan.
North Korean media web portal Naenara has deleted the digital archives of its monthly and quarterly Foreign Language Publishing house materials on previous occasions.
Among the handful of articles that did not get removed from KCNA’s archives are: