On Thursday, South Korea’s Yonhap reported on a new Facebook page in the name of the Korean Central Television, North Korea’s national TV station. (Updated. See below.)
Yonhap said, “North Korea’s state broadcaster started real-time Facebook broadcasting as the communist country moves to expand its propaganda efforts into the social networking realm, official sources said Thursday.”
In never divulged who the “official sources” were beyond describing them as people “who keep tabs on the North.”
Later in the day, Agence France Presse reported the same Facebook page, reporting on the news of Kim Jong Un’s visit to a mushroom farm in the first news bulletin of the day. Like Yonhap, AFP noted, “The move marks a further step by the reclusive state to develop its Internet presence and use of social networks to disseminate state-approved propaganda.”
But there’s a few things about the new Facebook page that don’t quite add up.
The page claims to be based in Pyongyang, but links to Uriminzokkiri.com.
Uriminzokkiri isn’t in Pyongyang. It’s in China. It runs YouTube, Flickr and Twitter accounts and has an iTunes podcast so is well versed in social media, but makes no secret of its Chinese base.
Uriminzokkiri’s social media efforts to date have been in Korean, not English (bar a short-lived attempt at an English-language Twitter feed), and are aimed at ethnic Koreans in North Korea’s East Asian neighbors. It established a Facebook page in 2010, but the page was deleted, twice, because it was set up as a personal account and not a “page.” Uriminzokkiri has not been back to Facebook since.
A quick check on the Uriminzokkiri site shows it doesn’t list the channel, despite it apparently starting at least a month ago.
So livestreaming on Facebook doesn’t quite fit the Uriminzokkiri profile. If it was to livestream — and it’s probably the most likely part of the North Korean Internet family of sites to do so — it would probably make more sense to serve the video stream from its own site or a third party video service like Ustream, Livestation or Livestream. That’s what it does with recorded video clips: its own site and YouTube.
Assuming the Pyongyang base is correct and the page links to Uriminzokkiri because there’s no KCTV website, it would be even more unusual. Non of North Korea’s Pyongyang-based sites engage in social media at all, and especially don’t adopt the chatty tone of the Facebook page.
The page includes lots of photos and text articles from KCNA. Among the most interesting items are some “behind the scenes” looks at the KCTV studios. They are presumably there to lend credibility to the Facebook account.
Pictures of inside KCTV have only been seen a couple of times in the last few years: once during the 2012 Lunar New Year when China Central Television reported on the TV station and interviewed Ri Chun Hui, probably the most famous KCTV anchor. And then later in 2012 when CCTV donated studio equipment to the broadcaster.
The photo above claims to have been taken on Sunday, May 19, and if real it would be a very unusual look behind the scenes of one of North Korea’s key propaganda machines.
Here’s the photo in full:
And here’s a photo carried on this website on October 1, 2012, as part of a report into the modernization of the KCTV control room by CCTV. Notice anything similar between the two photos?
The photo of the control room “on Sunday” is actually a six-month old Xinhua photo that’s been cropped to remove the “news.cn” name from the corner. One of the other “behind the scenes” photos on the Facebook page is a different shot from the same article on NorthKoreaTech, also cropped to remove the news.cn name.
Then there’s the livestreams themselves.
The two streams don’t come from Pyongyang or China at all. One is a Ustream feed that’s been set up in the name of “elufa.tv.” Elufa is a website run by the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (aka Chrongryon or Chosen Soren) and the other is a Windows Media feed provided by the Seoul-based SPTV website.
Is Korean Central Television really relying on a Japanese and South Korean website to stream its programming?
While it’s impossible to determine who is actually behind the site, everything points to it being the work of one of several North Korean fans outside of the country who already post the country’s propaganda to their own sites and YouTube channels. There’s nothing on the page that appears genuinely original from KCTV in Pyongyang.
[UPDATE: The Facebook page, which was available at https://www.facebook.com/KoreanCentralTV , appears to have been deleted shortly after this article was published.]