North Korea limits Olympics viewing to citizens, uses Games for propaganda

North Korea limits Olympics viewing to citizens, uses Games for propaganda


For all the pomp, circumstance and press surrounding North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics, there’s a good chance those residing in the North have little or no access to watch it unfold.

“For the North Korean regime, there is no big incentive in reminding its people that the South lives well enough to host an Olympics,” Lee Min Bok, a defector from North Korea, told The New York Times newspaper in February 2018. “Unless one of its athletes wins a surprise medal, it’s not likely to broadcast any competition to its people.”

North Korea sent 22 athletes to compete in the Games in Pyeongchang. The North has free access to view the Olympics, but state-run television had not broadcasted any of it, officials and North Korean defectors in the south told the Times.

The lack of access to information demonstrates North Korea’s ongoing methods to control how its citizens view South Korean life and what’s happening in other parts of the world. (Pictured: In energy-starved North Korea, TV broadcasting is limited to a few hours of propaganda-filled programs a day. Here, Kim Jong Un is shown during a military parade in April 2017.)

“The last thing the North Korean authorities want is for its people to envy the South, Jung Gwang Il, a North Korean defector, told the Times.

The decision not to broadcast this year’s Games is even more eye-catching, given that North Korea broadcast daily highlights from the Winter Olympics held in Sochi, Russia, in 2014. None of its athletes competed there.

Access to television, in general, remains limited in North Korea, and viewing is restricted to a few hours a day and only for programs littered with propaganda, according to The New York Times. Residents in the North, however, have shown an interest in sports. South Korea has historically purchased broadcasting rights for the entire peninsula for the FIFA World Cup and Olympics. The North has shown such broadcasts in the past, usually a day or two after the original air date, the Times reported.

North Korean state-run news agencies have focused their Winter Olympics coverage on nonsporting activities, such as highlighting a visit to Pyeongchang by dictator Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong.

Analysists say Kim Jong Un has opted to use images from the Games as propaganda, showing the North Korean delegation being welcomed and cheered. Kim has also sought to distract the international community from the North’s continued unacceptable behavior regarding human rights and its ballistic missiles program.

“Kim Jong Un did not look for Olympics golds in the first place,” Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, told The New York Times. “His aim was to use the Olympics to create a mood for dialogue in order to head off sanctions and pressure and to soften his country’s negative image.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence used a recent trip to the Japan and South Korea to counter Kim’s message. Pence took several opportunities to remind the international community of North Korea’s bad behavior, and he continued to press for tougher sanctions against the rogue regime.