A woman named Un A takes viewers on a tour of the rth Korean capital Pyongyang in a recently released YouTube video. "Every building in Pyongyang is generally cleaned to shake off the winter dust," she says in English.
Echo of the Truth / YouTube
Echo of the Truth / YouTube
Echo of the Truth / YouTube
Updated at 11:30 a.m. ET
Accompanied by rickety guitars, a woman with glasses, short hair and a red coat shows the landmarks of the rth Korean capital Pyongyang. "Every building in Pyongyang is generally cleaned to shake off the winter dust," she said recently in a YouTube video in English.
In another video, the same woman named Un A wears a tracksuit and sneakers while jogging along the capital's Taedong River on her day off.
"Today I'm going to show you what Koreans do in their free time, OK?" She says. "I would say the most popular way we spend time is doing sports … like basketball, volleyball, table tennis."
It is noticeable that their clothing lacks the pin that rth Koreans normally wear in public and that shows the ruling Kim family patriarchs of the country.
Host Un A wears a tracksuit and trainers as she jogs along the capital's Taedong River.
Echo of the truth
It doesn't matter that most rth Koreans can't access the internet. rth Korea has gained a foothold on western social media through such videos on YouTube and Twitter as part of a new effort to reshape its solid state propaganda and reach overseas audiences.
It is unclear who exactly is making and distributing the videos on various YouTube channels. The channel with Un A is called "Echo of Truth" with 23,000 subscribers. A couple of dozen episodes titled "What & # 39; s Up Pyongyang" and "Pyongyang Tour Series" have been released since last year. The site says the channel was created in 2017.
While one of the videos heralds the capabilities of the "Invincible Korean People's Army", most of them focus on consumer and lifestyle issues. One shows Un A talking about the benefits of rth Korean brass tableware. another shows them screaming at rides in the amusement park.
The channel links to a Twitter account with the handle @coldnoodlefan (cold noodles are a popular food in both Koreas). The biography below the picture of Un A describes the report with around 8,600 followers as that of a "peace advocate" offering "unbiased news" about rth Korea.
By late Wednesday morning, Twitter had marked the account as "temporarily restricted" with a warning of "unusual activity" even though users could still click on the content.
Some reports outside of rth Korea state that these YouTube and Twitter accounts are linked to state or state-affiliated rth Korean media. While this is difficult to confirm, analysts think it is unlikely that the videos will be made by ordinary rth Koreans.
"I think the regime supports this in some way," says Rachel Minyoung Lee, a former rth Korean analyst with the US government. "But of course that doesn't mean that this is state-owned."
According to Lee, the use of Western social media is a new twist in a nearly two-decade rth Korean strategy of using the internet to influence how the country is perceived abroad. So far, this strategy has relied on traditional state media.
The regime wants to dispel the idea that "it is a poor, destitute country that is run by a dictator," she says, "and that they are not free to do something."
In several episodes of that spring, Un A set out to debunk foreign news that COVID-19 had sparked a wave of panic buying in the capital. In a modern looking supermarket, shoppers and employees display their shelves full of snacks, disinfectants and toilet paper.
"As you can see," Un tells the audience in English, "all stores are stocked with products and groceries to meet people's demands."
Other videos are aimed at a South Korean audience. rth Korean websites are blocked in the south for security reasons, but YouTube is not.
An episode, which is told in Korean on the YouTube channel "New DPRK", takes viewers to the well-equipped apartment of a middle-class Pyongyang family.
The mother in the trench coat is unpacking from a shopping spree, while her husband and her little girl sit next to her on a leather sofa. She gives her daughter new shoes, clothes, a Pine backpack and pencil case, and Dandelion notebooks.
When asked by her mother what she will do to earn all the goods, the girl enthuses: "I will make the commander happy," referring to leader Kim Jong Un.
Since coming to power in 2011, Kim has emphasized raising the standard of living for rth Koreans. He's pushed state-owned factories to make goods that people actually want to buy, including the Pine and Dandelion brands.
"I think (rth Korean leaders) understand that people have a desire to want better things," Lee says.
In a similar trend, the rth Korean government has urged the country's journalists to produce better propaganda that does not offend the intelligentsia of the people. It is a de facto admission that when foreign media content enters the country via counterfeit, smuggled videos or memory cards and South Korean radio broadcasts, consumers have different choices in what they want to see, hear and read.
The rth Korean authorities are still warning of harmful foreign cultural influences. But consumption is no longer a taboo. Wealthy entrepreneurs named Donju grab luxury goods. Western-style cafes and fast-food restaurants have sprung up in the capital.
The YouTube videos do not take viewers to the other cities and rural areas of rth Korea that lag far behind Pyongyang. The United Nations has said that 40% of the rth Korean population does not have enough to eat.
And not everything in the videos looks free or impromptu. Supermarket prices and an entire building on Pyongyang Street are pixelated with no explanation.
There is frequent praise for Kim Jong Un. As a result of jogging by the river, Un A explains: "All this enthusiasm for sport began thanks to our esteemed Marshall. He personally instructed people to do more physical exercise." She adds airily, "You see, even girls here like sports."
Up until last month, rth Korea claimed it was completely free of coronavirus cases, something medical experts viewed with skepticism. Un stated, "Our esteemed Supreme Leader has foreseen everything from the beginning and has taken precise and decisive measures that were beyond imagination, while others still hesitated."
While this type of language sounds awkward or exaggerated to some viewers, Lee notes that it has managed to attract overseas viewers, especially young South Koreans.
With a steady diet of reports on Kim Jong Un, his nuclear arsenal, and human rights abuses, they may be curious about videos that seem to show facets of life and leisure in the north that they hadn't imagined.
"They will think that by watching these videos they will learn about rth Korea," says Lee.