North Korea broadcast an opera to distract people from the Trump-Kim summit

By not broadcasting events live, the oppressive regime can own the narrative around any international events

by David Gilbert
Jun 12 2018, 1:30pm

As Donald Trump declared his meeting with Kim Jong Un a “very important event in world history,” the people most directly impacted by the outcome of the Singapore summit were watching an opera… about miners.

Tuesday’s historic summit between the two leaders was closely watched and eagerly dissected in almost every corner of the globe, but for most of the leaders’ seven-hour meeting, the North Korea state broadcaster displayed nothing but colored bars to viewers.

As the summit was coming to a close, the state broadcaster kicked into life, but instead of showing Trump and Kim signing a declaration described as “an epochal event of great significance,” it began broadcasting some musical entertainment.

Captured by BBC Monitoring journalist Alistair Coleman, the opera appears to center around the death of one of the miners. It ran for over 50 minutes before the coverage reverted to the “regular diet of workers standing in muddy fields.” Mining is one of the country’s few industries.

It was no surprise that North Korea’s government-run media did not cover the summit live, as it has typically waited days, sometimes weeks, before covering international events, especially those involving Kim.

North Korea’s media is very tightly controlled, and access to the open internet is granted to fewer than a couple hundred members of the ruling elite. Anyone found consuming media outside the official channels is severely punished, according to reports from defectors.

On Tuesday, rather than covering the summit, KNCA, the government-run news agency, preferred to keep citizens updated on national days in Russia and the Philippines and even the folk sport of swinging.

But in a nod to how important the meeting was, and in a significant departure from normal coverage timelines, Kim’s presence in Singapore was headline news across North Korean state media outlets on Monday morning.

The state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun dedicated its front page to pictures of Kim’s night-time stroll through Singapore the evening before the summit, with other reports focusing on his meeting with the Singapore prime minister as well as mentioning his meeting with Trump.

The TV coverage also showed Kim in Singapore, but it only used still images, again normal operating procedure for such events. Kim’s government typically likes to wait until the event is over before publishing a highly edited video of Kim’s trips.

In this case, however, the White House may have already done the job for them:

By not broadcasting events live, North Korea’s oppressive regime can continue to own the narrative around any international events, typically portraying the U.N. and the U.S. as aggressors in the past.

Analysts believe that this time around, the summit with Trump and the accompanying visuals will allow Kim to show himself as an equal of the so-called leader of the free world.

“This is a huge win for the DPRK,” Anwita Basu, an Asia analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit, told VICE News. “In fact, it could be argued that this is what the North Koreans have been working toward for so long: being legitimized as a state, despite its isolation. The edited version of the footage of this meeting will play on a loop for many months and even years on North Korea's state television.”

This is a sentiment echoed by John Hemmings, Asia Director at the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign policy think tank, who told VICE News that Kim’s messaging would focus on “national pride that North Korea is meeting the world’s superpower on an equal basis.”

Hemmings adds that Kim will also use the summit as an opportunity to call for “a new era of relations with the U.S. and the international community.”

Based on what happened when Kim meet South Korean President Moon Jae In in April, North Korean citizens are likely to get their first update on what happened at the summit on Wednesday.

Cover image: Still from an opera broadcast on North Korean state TV Tuesday, June 12, 2018.