Read North Korea – 38 North: An enlightened analysis of North Korea

North Korea’s public messaging is important because Pyongyang exercises complete control over its media to shape and manage public opinion at home and abroad. Pyongyang is extremely calibrated in its public messaging: what information it publishes and how it presents this information, at what level of authority, to whom, when and in what context. As such, tracking patterns and trends in media behavior and identifying even the smallest shifts can shed light on the current thinking and future intentions of North Korean leaders.

That said, understanding the Pyongyang language can be tricky. Much of North Korean media content is meaningless noise, and the real message tends to be obscure, making propaganda analysis a deliberate process of separating the wheat from the chaff. North Korea often posts comments and statements containing colorful expressions that then make headlines in South Korean and Western media. But what looks like a biting statement isn’t always meant to bite. By contrast, a routine essay in the party newspaper that appears to be just another meaningless piece of propaganda may in fact contain crucial signals about key changes in leadership. Picking what appears to be an interesting bit of information and over-analyzing it without seeing the larger patterns and trends will almost certainly result in the misinterpretation or omission of important signals from Pyongyang.

Navigating the intricacies of the North Korean media environment can be a tricky task, but with the right methodology and its rigorous and systematic application, it is not impossible.

38 North Nonresident Fellow, Rachel Minyoung Lee, has written an article outlining the basics of a North Korean media analytics framework and how it can be applied by both consumers and producers of North Korean analytics. It was written as part of the “Understanding North Korea” panel series, a joint program of the National Committee on North Korea (NCNK) and the Wilson Hyundai Motor Center – Korea Foundation Center for Korean history and public policy. For the full text of this article, see or /understanding-north-korea-public-messaging-introduction.