Serenading Kim Jong-Il: An after-action report

The DNI Open Source Center summary below has been forwarded to us by our friend at the State Department and follows up on the New York Philharmonic’s trip to Pyongyang. It comes from the OSC digest of North Korea’s internal news. The summary observes that the Norrth Korean regime only broadcast the concert on televison. Radio counterprogramming was chock full of anti-American shows. Almost nobody in North Korea has a television, of course, and, because of electricity blackouts, even fewer had electricity at the times when the concert was broadcast. Those that do have both a television and access to electricity are almost certainly party loyalists anyway. Here is the analysis:

OSC Feature – North Korea — OSC Analysis 28 Feb 08
Despite the fanfare given to the event by international media, North Korean media treatment of the New York Philharmonic’s Pyongyang visit suggests that the regime is attempting to avoid attaching undue diplomatic significance to the event. Although the live television broadcast appears to represent special treatment, several indicators suggest a deliberate attempt to prevent domestic coverage from outpacing the current diplomatic atmosphere.
In an apparent attempt to avoid overemphasizing the significance of the event, DPRK media have afforded relatively modest treatment of the 26 February New York Philharmonic visit.
Per the reported original agreement, Pyongyang broadcast the concert live via television to a limited domestic audience. According to UN data, there are approximately 55 TV sets for every 1,000 North Koreans, totaling an estimated 1.3 million TV sets for the entire country. By comparison, South Koreans own 347 per 1,000, approximately seven times more (BBC, 10 October 2006).
The concert was not broadcast on radio, Pyongyang’s most pervasive public communications vehicle. In fact, during the performance Pyongyang radio aired instead two anti-US programs — an attributed talk entitled “Dangerous US War Strategy Against Korea” and a dialogue entitled “Who Is the Ringleader Intensifying Tension?”
The party daily all but sidelined the performance, relegating the report on the concert to the bottom of page four with a short accompanying article and photo (Rodong Sinmun, 27 February). Furthermore, the picture, although not necessarily small, appeared to be deliberately cropped to remove the United States and North Korean flags — one on each side of the stage — the inclusion of which would have been an easy opportunity to suggest the importance the regime places on improving US-DPRK relations.
The highest ranking member reported in attendance was Yang Hyong Sop, vice president of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) Presidium, and there was no mention of any foreign ministry officials, although Ri Ku’n, director of the US Affairs Department of the DPRK Foreign Ministry, was clearly shown in the audience (Pyongyang radio, 27 February). Also, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) only reported the joint concert with Pyonyang’s State Symphony Orchestra as an addendum to the New York Philharmonic’s departure report (27 February).
By contrast, in 2002 KCNA reported a higher official — Kim Yong Nam, president of the SPA Presidium — in attendance at the South Korean KBS Symphony performance in Pyongyang (21 September 2002). Furthermore, the joint concert with the State Symphony Orchestra was afforded its own report (KCNA, 22 September 2002).
Although North Korean media avoided overemphasizing the event, they also refrained from dismissing the historic importance of the event altogether.
During the live televised broadcast — highly unusual for a controlled media environment — the announcer refrained from explicitly mentioning wider diplomatic ramifications but characterized the Philharmonic’s concert “as the first step for art exchanges between the two countries” (Pyongyang television, 26 February).
The Philharmonic began the concert by playing both the US and DPRK national anthems, and later in the concert Pyongyang television aired close-up footage of the US flag and former US officials in attendance.
Pyongyang apparently allowed itself maneuverability in the runup to the concert. Central media was observed to first mention the Philharmonic on 11 February, positively characterizing the Philharmonic as one of the “representative philharmonic orchestras” of the world with a “long history and tradition.”
Pyongyang’s apparent decision to avoid playing up the event could be attributed — in part, at least — to what might have been their negative interpretation of recent remarks by US officials.
Pyongyang may have interpreted comments made recently by Secretary of State Rice, White House Press Secretary Perino, and State Department Deputy Spokesman Casey as downplaying the diplomatic significance of the event and critical of their regime.
Pyongyang’s handling of the Philharmonic concert bears some resemblance to the unusually low-key reporting on New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s April 2007 visit to Pyongyang to receive the remains of US POWs. At that time also, the visit could have been used as a breakthrough signal for US-DPRK relations and the row over frozen North Korean funds.
Now, as in 2007, Pyongyang’s media coverage likely reflects the regime’s intent not to let the positive aspects of the Philharmonic’s visit outpace the current Six-Party Talks atmosphere.

I have omitted from this summary two footnotes and the internal links to cited documents that have been translated by the OSC.
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