From Lee So-yeon’s time in the military, she is able to offer insight into what the North Korean government wants its own people to know. When she was a soldier, state TV blasted nonstop in her office, she says.
“There’s a TV in every army barracks. When there was a nuclear test, state TV told us to feel proud, so we did,” Lee says. “Even when there were peace talks between North and South Korea, state TV told us it was a ploy by the South to take over our country.”
The media in North Korea do not merely report information. Instead, they’re a tool for the regime to stir emotion, especially when it feels threatened — as it does now, says Jeon Young-sun, a professor of North Korea studies in Seoul.
“Outside pressure on North Korea — sanctions or threats of attack — actually help the regime win domestic support,” Jeon says. “North Korea is as always on the defensive, and fear rallies people around their Dear Leader.”
It’s not just soldiers. Defector Lee Hyeonseo was a high school student in 1994, when the Clinton administration came close to a pre-emptive military strike on North Korea’s nuclear facilities. Her school ended classes and sent the students out digging trenches for months.
“We were so scared at the time. We really thought we were going to have a war,” says Lee, 36. “Somehow, we believed we were going to win that war, because our dear leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, they were superior gods who can make everything happen.”