The Koreas | Politics | East Asia

North Korea Strengthens Propaganda Efforts Ahead of Key Party Anniversary

There hasn’t been much to celebrate in North Korea this year. But with a key anniversary looming, the propaganda machine is trying to set a more festive mood.

Tae-jun Kang
North Korea Strengthens Propaganda Efforts Ahead of Key Party Anniversary
Credit: Pixabay

North Korea has strengthened its propaganda efforts in recent months, with its state-run media outlets scrambling to report the country’s “achievements” in many sectors.

The North often uses propaganda in media outlets to boast about its accomplishments, although they are often exaggerated or even untrue. This time, however, it appears that the country is putting in more effort than usual. Propaganda media outlets are even promoting minor achievements, which they would have ignored in the past.

In some cases, they are revisiting previous achievements and promoting them as if they are the latest information.

For instance, on October 5, state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun and the Korean Central News Agency, Pyongyang’s state news agency, reported details of construction projects for households around Pyongyang International Airport.

In fact, the projects were already finalized last year, and the story was widely reported by the North Korean media at the time.

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North Korean media also focused on promoting the government’s progress to restore areas devastated by typhoons. In particular, media outlets reported on the government’s efforts to secure the necessary resources to rebuild in rural areas.

What explains the uptick in propaganda?

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said North Korea appears to have decided to maximize its propaganda efforts to “save Pyongyang’s face” ahead of the 75th anniversary of the Worker’s Party’s founding on October 10, when a large-scale ceremony is expected to take place.

The party foundation day has typically been a venue for Pyongyang not only to celebrate but also to consolidate domestic support and snub foreign forces. However, the situation has been not favorable for Pyongyang so far this year, so it seems the propaganda apparatus is going into overdrive to create a celebratory mood for the anniversary.

“North Korea is currently suffering from international sanctions and the outbreak of COVID-19. On top of that, the country was hit hard by typhoons. It is essential to boost the country’s image before the ceremony takes place,” Yonhap noted.

Despite its efforts, it is unlikely North Korea will have a real achievement to boast about at the upcoming anniversary.

Take the construction project of Pyongyang Genera Hospital as an example. North Korea has been eager to promote the progress of the hospital since the beginning of the construction back in March.

At that time, leader Kim Jong Un set a 200-day target for the hospital’s completion, meaning a deadline of October 2. Apparently he hoped the hospital could form one of the main propaganda pillars ahead of the foundation anniversary.

Since then, news reports about the hospital’s construction have flooded propaganda outlets. They mainly detailed the process of the construction and efforts made by the government to secure necessary manpower and resources.

Based on such reports, the construction seemed to have sailed smoothly. At least we know that the exterior of the building is complete, according to an analysis by 38 North.

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However, the status of the interior work is unknown, 38 North said – and probably lagging behind.

“Given the likely difficulties of getting finishing materials and medical equipment into the country due to both sanctions and border shutdowns for most of the year as well as the lack of interior photographs in official North Korean media coverage of the hospital, it is doubtful that the hospital’s interior is anywhere close to complete,” the website explained.

Seoul-based online publication Daily NK also cited a source in the North as saying that it would be difficult to begin operation of the hospital ahead of the anniversary.

The source said that although the exterior is close to completion, workers have not only failed to properly prepare key devices and facilities, but also lack technical skills needed to install specialized rooms to treat patients.

“The construction of walls, ceilings and floor has not been completed from the fifth floor or higher… it won’t be able to receive patients right away,” the source added.

North Korea is likely to hold a huge opening ceremony for the hospital, regardless the status of completion.