Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Family man and friendly leader? Kim Jong Un gets positive spin at home

While the rest of the world worries about North Korea's threats of nuclear war, at home, North Koreans see a softer side of leader Kim Jong Un portrayed in state propaganda. Images show Kim mingling with children and saluting soldiers. 

By Foster KlugAssociated Press / March 30, 2013

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, accompanied by his wife Ri Sol Ju, waves to the crowd as they inspect the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground in Pyongyang in July 2012. For the outside world, North Korea's message is largely threats of nuclear war, but a domestic audience gets a parallel and decidedly softer dose of propaganda.

Korean Central News Agency/AP/File

Enlarge

Seoul, South Korea

The outside world focuses on the messages of doom and gloom from North Korea: bombastic threats of nuclear war, fantasy videos of US cities in flames, digitally altered photos of leader Kim Jong Un guiding military drills. But back home, North Koreans get a decidedly softer dose of propaganda: Kim portrayed as a young, energetic leader, a people person and family man.

Skip to next paragraph

Mixed in with the images showing Kim aboard a speeding boat on a tour of front-line islands, or handing out commemorative rifles to smartly saluting soldiers, are those of Kim and his wife clapping at a dolphin show or linking arms with weeping North Korean children.

The pictures can look odd or obviously staged to outsiders. But they're carefully crafted propaganda meant to give North Koreans an image of a country governed by a leader who is as comfortable overseeing a powerful military as he is mingling with the people.

Analysts say the images also hint at something that often gets lost amid the threatening rhetoric: North Korea's supreme commander isn't an all-powerful, isolated monarch who can govern without considering his people's approval. Kim is still busy building his reputation at home.

"Even dictatorships respond to public opinion and public pressure," said John Delury, a North Korea analyst at Seoul's Yonsei University. "He's expected to pay attention to and make improvements in the common people's standard of living. They've put that promise out in their domestic propaganda."

It's a tall order. Living standards in Pyongyang, the capital, are relatively high, with new shops and restaurants catering to a growing middle class. But U.N. officials' reports detail harsh conditions elsewhere in North Korea: up to 200,000 people estimated to be languishing in political prison camps, and two-thirds of the country's 24 million people facing regular food shortages.

When it comes to North Korean propaganda, much of the world focuses on the series of outlandish videos uploaded to the country's YouTube channel and government website, largely for foreign consumption. In one fantasy, missiles rain down on a burning American city while an instrumental version of "We Are the World" plays in the background. In another, President Barack Obama and US troops burn.

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer

 

Doing Good

 

What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

 
 
Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!