Kim Jong-un: North Korea leader's media makeover

Image source, BBC grab
Image caption,
Kim Jong-un is often presented as being close to the people

North Korea's tightly controlled media are building up a personality cult around the new leader, Kim Jong-un.

In the six months since the death of his father Kim Jong-il on 17 December, BBC Monitoring has observed that media coverage of Kim Jong-un has moved in stages from respectful mentions to presenting him now as a confident, modern leader in tune with the daily concerns of citizens.

The steady transformation of his media profile corresponds with the power transition in the country following the death of his father.

Weeds at the funfair

A report on North Korean TV on 9 May is a good example of this latest, fourth stage. Footage was shown of Kim Jong-un visiting a funfair and criticising officials for its poor upkeep and for allowing weeds to proliferate.

Kim stopped at a swing boat and "pointing at the seriously broken pavement... asked officials when the road was last re-paved. It is regretful that the road has not been managed well, he said."

Image caption,
Kim Jong-un rips up weeds at the Manyo'ngdae Funfair (Source: North Korean TV)

Kim pointed at weeds in the pavement and "with an irritated look, plucked them up one by one". TV pictures showed him wearing a sunhat and bending over to remove the weeds.

Kim accused those in charge of having a "below-zero spirit of serving the people".

In the past North Korean TV has shown leaders visiting factories, observing and offering encouraging "on the spot guidance", but criticism and personal action to remedy problems are new departures.

In another first, the TV carried pictures of Kim strolling with officials, looking relaxed with his tunic undone, showing a white vest underneath - in contrast with the formal attire of his father in public appearances.

Initial sorrow

North Korean media coverage of Kim Jong-un has passed through several stages since December.

Kim Jong-il's death led to reports and commentaries lamenting the event. Against the prevailing tone of national sorrow, the junior Kim initially found secondary but respectful mention.

An official news agency report from KCNA contained a lengthy outpouring of grief: "Not even thinking about wiping away the tears that are gushing forth, North Koreans are writhing in suffering and sorrow at the loss."

In the days that followed however, there were increasingly positive mentions of the younger Kim as the "mental mainstay of the Korean people" and a "sagacious leader".

And on 29 December, a senior official used the term "supreme leader" to describe Kim Jong-un - again reported by KCNA - even though it was only much later that he was officially given that title.

The media were now projecting the junior Kim as the successor to his late father. Within 10 days his media profile had risen steeply.


Media coverage moved into a second phase from around 29 December with the emphasis shifting from lamenting Kim Jong-il's death to extolling Kim Jong-un's abilities.

Image caption,
Mr Kim appeared relaxed amongst officials during his funfair visit (Source: North Korean TV)

KCNA reported how Kim was "encouraging the homeland... to rise above bitter sorrow with his intense loyalty, extraordinary leadership, art and virtues".

North Korean media continued to bolster the new leader's legitimacy by emphasising his lineage, speaking of "the wise leadership of Kim Jong-un, who is identical to the great leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il".

The newspaper Minju Joson, which is published by the North Korean cabinet, carried an article praising the younger Kim's "clairvoyant sagacity, bold operation and energetic leadership".

Cementing grip on power

Over the next few weeks, reports describing Kim's public appearances and activities - as opposed to merely his leadership capabilities - became increasingly frequent. The second phase of media coverage blended into a third, in which Kim began to cement his grip on power.

On 20 January KCNA reported how Kim inspected an air force training unit and "guided the flight training of pilots".

At a concert a week later, he "gave precious teachings for the performing activities of the KPA Military Band." He also gave "field guidance" at a sports factory in February.

As they did with his father before him, the North Korean media were now portraying a larger-than-life image of Kim as a vastly knowledgeable individual capable of mentoring experts in diverse activities.

Since Kim's election as "supreme leader of the Korean people" on 11 April, his media profile has evolved into the present fourth stage in keeping with his increasing confidence.

BBC Monitoringselects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad. For more reports from BBC Monitoring,click here

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