North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the quality and content of a state newspaper be improved and its circulation increased so it can serve as a public media ideological training tool for cadres, sources inside the country said.
“According to Kim Jong Un’s order, North Korea has recently increased the circulation of the Rodong Shinmun from 300,000 to 600,000,” a source in Chagang province, who declined to be named, told RFA’s Korean Service.
The Rodong Shinmun is the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and North Korea’s main national daily.
“Central authorities ordered the circulation of Rodong Shinmun to be increased up to 1.2 million copies this year,” the source went on to say.
But as the circulation is increasing, authorities still cannot determine if the number of readers has risen accordingly, he said. Therefore, they have forcibly allocated copies to people’s units and factories.
“North Korea can’t even handle 600,000 copies of the Rodong Shinmun, and if it increases the circulation to 1.2 million, how can it deal with such a large number of newspapers?” asked another source who criticized the central authorities for not being able to read popular sentiment.
A source from Ryanggang province, which is bordered by China to the north, told RFA that few people are able to afford the newspaper, whose current annual subscription rate is 2,000 won, equivalent to one kilogram of corn in local markets.
He also noted that demand for the Rodong Shinmun has fallen because North Koreans can obtain paper from China to use as wastepaper, which is in short supply in the isolated country.
The fifth page
Lately, North Korean authorities have started allowing people to use the fifth page of the Rodong Shinmun as wastepaper, the source said. But now that North Koreans can get wastepaper and cigarette paper from China, they no longer need to buy the Rodong Shinmun, he said.
Furthermore, he said North Koreans must collect newspapers and turn them in to the post office once a year to be recycled. Because there are many pictures of Kim Jong Un on the pages of the Rodong Shinmun, those who take the newspapers to the post office can find themselves in trouble if the images are stained or damaged even just a little, he said.
Three million copies of the Rodong Shinmun were published daily in the 1980s, but circulation dropped during the Arduous March of the 1990s when a severely destructive famine accompanied a general economic crisis in North Korea. During that time, the newspaper only issued copies to government agencies and libraries, sources said.
After the Arduous March ended, the regime of former leader Kim Jong Il, which regarded propaganda as necessary to maintain power, had steadily increased the newspaper’s circulation.
But after his son Kim Jong Un took over in December 2011, the newspaper maintained a daily circulation of 300,000, sources said.
In 2012, the Rodong Shinmun launched an English-language website (http://www.rodong.rep.kp/en/), according to the North Korea Tech blog, which covers consumer electronics and technology developments in the country.
Reported by Sung-hui Moon of RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Yunju Kim. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.