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Is North Korean Propaganda Becoming More Nuanced?

North Korea is continuing its new-media experiments with the launch of the first-ever video on the new homepage of the Korean Central News Agency. The excellent North Korea Tech blog takes a look:

The first [video] shows scenes from around Pyongyang, including families visiting the Mansudae Grand Monument, while the second includes more shots of the city and comments from a government official identified as Kim Pyong O, a department director in the Ministry of Light Industry, on the New Year editorial.

The main problem is that the video isn’t easy to watch as they’re not using a standard video player:

Unlike most other Internet video, the site isn’t using a Flash player. The videos require the use of “HMS Player,” versions of which can be downloaded for Windows or Linux (sorry Mac users). I’ve looked into the software and the “kml://” address used and there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of documentation available online.

The blog does explain a workaround to watch the video if you’re interested and don’t want to download software from a North Korean server. But as North Korea Tech points out, the videos do seem a little lighter than usual on the propaganda front and are “much more in the style of shot that are provided by TV news agencies to clients.”

Last year, North Korea hit the headlines as it made its first forays into social media and launched a YouTube channel. (The links, however, between the government and those responsible for the accounts is still a little unclear.)

One of the problems -- which maybe the Korean Central News Agency will be savvy enough to address -- is that of style. Go to the Uriminzokkiri YouTube channel for example and you’ll see marching proletariat, roaring furnaces in steelworks, and melancholic celebrations of military glory. (Watch the video above for a good example of glorious food production.)

And although the videos on the Korean Central News Agency site do seem a little breezier and less heavy-handed, the rest of the content seems like business as usual. Sample headlines: Mass Rally Held to Vow to Implement Militant Tasks for 2011. Officials Help Workers in Steel Production in DPRK.

Wired wrote about some of North Korea’s social-media efforts in December:

The North's Flickr page is heavy on shots of flash-card dancing and joyful fireworks explosions, with heavy emphasis on the illuminated streets of Pyongyang -- to refute the image of the country as an impoverished, electricity-starved prison-state. Curiously, its Facebook page is pretty barren, except for links to its other propaganda and social-media sites, garnering it a mere 47 Likes.

Much as North Korea might be getting into the social-media scene, it's not big on conversation. "With the exception of spam markings on derogatory comments, the account operators do not interact with subscribers," the Open Source Centre notes. The YouTube channel's comment section is mostly the expected amen corner, but TheUltramarines065 managed to sneak in a contrary message: "NORTH KOREA WORST KOREA!!!!!!!"

So for the most part: new platforms, same old story. For a truer representation of the country, take a look at what AsiaPress is doing by covertly arming North Korean citizen journalists with cameras.

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