Accessibility links

North Korean Television Anchorwoman Has One Main Job - Praise Kim Jong-Il

In North Korea, one newscaster leads the news every day. Ri Chun Hee begins every newscast reporting the latest on the nation's leader, Kim Jong-Il. But some North Korea experts and defectors say audiences are not paying attention to the official news anymore.

A familiar face greets North Koreans each night when they tune in to watch the television news. An older woman, dressed in a pink traditional Korean gown, bows to the camera before speaking. Ri Chun Hee appears at the start of every North Korean newscast.

Her beat is the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il. She reports every public appearance he makes, every word of on- the-spot guidance he utters and recites the praises he reportedly receives from abroad.

According to a profile of Ri in a North Korean magazine, she was born in 1943, has worked as a reporter for nearly 40 years and has been bestowed both a luxury house and car by Kim Jong-il himself.

A spokeswoman at South Korea's Unification Ministry says because Ri is not a political figure, the Seoul government knows little else about her.

But Brian Myers, a North Korea analyst at Dongseo University in Busan, says not just anyone can become a news anchor in the north. "Apparently you need especially good ideological credentials and a good family background if you want to go into journalism," he said.

Myers, however, says Ri is an exception because she trained as an actress before getting into journalism. He points out though, that this probably worked to her advantage, considering the nature of news in North Korea. "The entire news broadcast in North Korea is a much more stagey and theatrical affair than even news in the old Soviet Union was," he said.

Newscasts unfailingly praise the Pyongyang government, and belittle many foreign governments. News reports do not mention North Korea's worsening economic situation or its poor human rights record.

But there are signs that North Korean audiences are becoming more aware of the formulaic propaganda.

Jin Seong Rak defected to South Korea in 2008. Jin says in North Korea there is a saying that if you watch television for just one week, you do not need to watch it ever again, because everything is repeated, it is all the same stuff.

Jin is now a journalist himself at a radio station staffed by mostly North Korean reporters in Seoul. They transmit their newscast back to their homeland.

But Jin and his colleagues do not know how many listeners they actually have.

Defector journalist Kim Eun Ho, who arrived in South Korea last year, says that what is clear is that North Koreans are losing faith in the official media there.

Kim says in North Korea, the Kim Jong-Il government and the political parties always say we will soon have a better life. That has been going on for decades. But because nothing has changed people have stopped watching TV and listening to the radio. He says they do not believe it.

Aside from defector radio stations and broadcasters such as Voice of America, North Korean television faces competition from smuggled South Korean movies and dramas. But for Ri Chun Hee, the grandmotherly anchorwoman, her job seems safe.

Most televisions in North Korea receive only the government channel and possessing foreign news media can land you and your family in jail. So it seems for that as long as Kim Jong Il governs, Ri Chun Hee will be there to give the latest news.