NK’s main paper launches English website
By Kim Young-jin
North Korea’s ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun has launched an English-language website in an apparent attempt to expand its reach in the international community.
An officer of the National Police Agency’s cyber division said authorities were moving to block access to the site in South Korea under the National Security law. The two Koreas are still technically at war.
The newspaper is the main mouthpiece of the Workers’ Party. The party also publishes a weekly English-language tabloid, the Pyongyang Times.
The officer said the site had been blocked for a time but became accessible as its operators had changed the IP address related the domain name.
The launch came as Pyongyang is securing the base of power for new leader Kim Jong-un following the death of his father Kim Jong-il last month. Though unclear whether the move was linked to the transition, analysts said it was the latest attempt to amplify the North’s voice outside its borders.
“North Korea is using every means to publicize its causes in the international community,” Park Young-ho of the Korea Institute for National Unification said. “The operation of the site would be another sign of that.”
Pyongyang also operates Facebook and Twitter accounts and other sites that provide links to state propaganda.
The new site, which South Koreans could access for a short time Tuesday, follows the form of the paper, focusing heavily on Kim Jong-un’s activities, domestic developments and editorials that are seen as the voice of the party.
It is rife with criticism of the Lee Myung-bak administration with which it has held icy ties. The North has continued its harsh rhetoric since Kim’s death, signaling it is likely to stick to his policies for now.
The top story as of Tuesday was Kim Jong-un’s visit to a prominent tank division on New Year’s Day, a move seen as consolidating his power among the military. Though Kim was elevated to “supreme commander” of the armed forces, analysts say he must win confidence among the elite to rule with a sure hand.
Also prominently featured was the opening of the Kwangbok Area Supermarket in Pyongyang, reportedly a venture with a Chinese firm. The store, at which the late Kim made his final reported public appearance, is seen as a symbol of the North’s limited foray into economic reforms.
The front page also displayed an image of earlier protests in South Korea against the recently-passed free trade agreement with the United States. Pyongyang routinely covers contentious issues in the South in an apparent bid to exacerbate tensions and influence public opinion here.
The contentious security law, enforced in 1948, makes illegal both communism and the recognition of North Korea as a political entity. Despite calls that it is a restriction of the freedom of speech, it is frequently used to block North Korean propaganda and investigate those who “praise, disseminate or cooperate with anti-state groups.”
The opening of the website also coincides with the North’s efforts to emerge as a “strong and prosperous” state ahead of the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il-sung in April.
“Glorify the year 2012 as a year of proud victory... when an era of prosperity is unfolding,” a banner running atop the page read.
The site was also rife with references to the ongoing mourning over the late leader. A story titled “Kim Jong-il and the development of cinema art,” extolled the leader for his contributions to the field and expressed regrets for not featuring him in more films.
The “international” section comprised of news of bilateral developments with allies and included a report on a congratulatory note from Syrian leader Bashir al-Assad to Kim Jong-un on assuming leadership.