China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Every day, audiences around the world consume news stories about North Korea. More often than not, written pieces on events relating to North Korea—either in print newspapers or online outlets—will be accompanied by photographic images. Given that, for independent photographers, access to the “hermit kingdom” is heavily restricted, these images will usually have been provided by North Korea’s own propaganda machinery—in particular, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). In other words, global visual knowledge of North Korea is largely shaped by photographs that were produced by the North Korean regime itself.
However, despite the high salience of regime-produced photographs in the international news media, the scholarly literature has so far failed to provide a systematic inquiry into KCNA imagery. To address this gap, we perform a quantitative content analysis of a sample of almost 2,000 KCNA photographs released between 2012 and 2018. Based on political communication theories, we find that the regime uses photography to establish Kim Jong-un as a political brand that international audiences can relate to. More generally, then, our paper shows that the regime in Pyongyang actively seeks to influence international public opinion about foreign policy towards the Korean conflict.