Rachel Minyoung Lee on "Understanding North Korea's Public Messaging" - Understanding North Korea Paper Series

May 6, 2022

Since June 2021, the National Committee on North Korea and the Wilson Center's Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy have worked together to implement a roundtable series called "Understanding North Korea." The series provided a platform for six emerging scholars to share their research ideas with peers and experts in the field and publish their findings in a format accessible to a general audience. Topics included North Korea's cyber activities, illicit finance, social controls, socioeconomic trends, and intra-elite power relations. Rachel Minyoung Lee's paper is the 3rd in the series and a summary of and link to her report are below:

North Korean media analysis is, simply put, a process of separating the wheat from the chaff. Much of North Korean media content is routine propaganda, perhaps even meaningless noise. More often than not, trends and patterns that are key to understanding Pyongyang's intentions remain buried under meaningless propaganda, and it is the job of the analyst to filter out the noise and discern the message. Serious analysis of North Korea's public messaging requires the right methodology and a well-trained eye to apply it rigorously and systematically to decode the messaging. A smart data curating tool for speeding up and improving the accuracy of the analysis would be icing on the cake.

The objective of this paper is to introduce the basics of a propaganda analysis method to help both consumers and producers of North Korea analysis avoid the all-too-common pitfalls of cherry picking, comparing apples and oranges, and drawing conclusions based on the proximity of two events. In that vein, this paper will examine a) the significance of North Korea's public line for understanding Pyongyang's intentions; b) a time-tested analytic framework for propaganda analysis; and c) the key changes in the North Korean communications strategy since the U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi and potential implications for this analysis method.