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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Fake news, Pyongyang style

Revelations by a defector from North Korea provide a rare opportunity to understand how journalists work in the repressive Communist state.

Chang Hae Seong was a journalist for the Pyongyang regime’s Korean Central Television (KCTV) and now lives in Seoul, South Korea. In an article published in the Korean Times, he writes: “While working as a reporter at the Division of Revolution I at the TV station, I dignified Kim Il Sung to elevate him to being the hero who saved the country.”

According to Chang, the North Korean founder and dictator Kim Il-sung, grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un, is seen by many older people in the North as a superhero. Many believe that the older Kim, who died in 1994, had magical powers and, for instance, could make bullets from sand dust, and that he had crossed the Yalu River at the Chinese-North Korean border by riding on nothing but a withered leaf.

For decades, North Korea’s state-controlled media have produced what people would now regard as “fake news” for the Kim dynasty.

Before his defection, Chang was deeply involved in the Kim family’s plot to fool the North Korean public to ensure their stay in power. In the North, he now says, “news stories are made, not covered”. Chang, now 73, says he wrote his reports from scratch. “I did research on Kim to find stories. If I found even a speck of something positive about him, I would exaggerate it to recreate a whole story to portray him as a great leader.

“There were five divisions within the state TV, including the Division of Revolution I, and like me, reporters there were ordered to make and report stories about the Kim family to justify their policies.”
Chang joined the state media in 1976 after graduating from the Kim Il-sung University Department of Philosophy in the capital city of Pyongyang and worked there for 20 years.