The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang are well underway, yet North Korea’s state media has only minimally covered the games, not bothering to feature any of the 22 athletes or hundreds of cheerleaders, journalists, artists and politicians it sent to South Korea for the occasion.
Korean Central Television hasn’t broadcast any video footage thus far, only a handful of still images from the North Korean delegation’s visit to Pyeongchang, including pictures from a hockey game Sunday in which some of the North Korean athletes participated as part of the joint Korean team, 38 North’s Martyn Williams, a North Korea analyst and journalist, told HuffPost. One photo featured Kim Yo Jong, leader Kim Jong Un’s sister whom he sent as his primary emissary.
One day before, KCTV also showcased some stills of the opening ceremony featuring the delegation, but the network played patriotic music videos while the ceremony was happening live, according to the BBC.
“The only reporting has been on the delegation and the political side of things,” Williams said. “If you look at the reporting, the athletes and the cheerleaders have hardly been mentioned.” The only video KCTV has broadcast was of them leaving Pyeongchang and arriving back in North Korea.
Korean Central News Agency did report on comments Kim Jong Un made in response to South Korea hosting officials from his government during the Olympics, according to CNN’s Will Ripley. It also issued a report heaping praise on the performance of North Korean hockey players and cheerleaders during Saturday’s game against Switzerland, failing to mention that Korea lost 8-0.
KCTV is known for not broadcasting events live, Williams noted, even in the case of major North Korean military parades in the streets of Pyongyang.
“They don’t show everything, they only show the parts [of the games] that are relevant to North Korea and provide a certain narrative about North Korea’s role there,” Jenny Town, assistant director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told HuffPost. “They keep it sanitized, telling people what they need to know.”
In previous years the network has featured one to two hours of Olympic programming nightly, Williams said, implying that there could be an issue this year with North Korea successfully obtaining broadcasting rights. But the Winter Games may also not be that important to North Koreans, Town said, seeing as the most popular sports in the country, like basketball and soccer, aren’t part of the competition.
The rest of the world has certainly taken note of North Korea’s presence in Pyeongchang. Some Western news outlets have even faced criticism for painting the dictatorial regime in a positive light by choosing to cover its soft power Olympics push, comprised of smiling cheerleaders and athletes walking side by side with South Koreans.
The regime, ranked last place in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, is known for its extreme censorship, offering only one news outlet that’s entirely controlled by the state. The country’s programming is rooted in praiseworthy coverage of its leaders past and present. Attempts to seek news from elsewhere is a punishable offense.
“Under the penal code, listening to unauthorized foreign broadcasts and possessing dissident publications are considered ‘crimes against the state’ that carry serious punishments, including hard labor, prison sentences, and the death penalty,” according to a 2016 Freedom House report. “North Koreans are often interrogated or arrested for speaking critically about the government; they also face arrest for possessing or watching black-market recordings of television programs.”
This post has been updated with comment from Martyn Williams.