The media is obsessed with security issues and the possibility of conflict. When North Korea is in the news, excited commentators often hype the Korean peninsula as a powder-keg waiting to blow up. We’ve been told many times that North Korea threatens to ‘wipe out’ the world. The chance of conflict always grabs the headlines.
When the North Korean people are shown on TV, it is often as goose-stepping soldiers, fanatical loyalists, or as a part of propaganda events. These images dehumanize the North Korean people and make it very hard for us to empathize with them.
Kim Jong-un is not only one of the most famous Koreans today, but also one the most famous leaders in the world. For decades, the international media has focused on the Kim family, so they have become a self-sustaining story by themselves.
The narrative should focus on the North Korean people, not the regime. North Korea is a normal country filled with good people facing a terrible government. We need to share the stories of individual North Koreans, including the challenges they must overcome and the changes they are driving from the bottom up. These stories will inspire action.
We should humanize and normalize the North Korean people to make the issue relatable. Though the North Korean people are up against great challenges, it’s important to see non-extreme experiences of daily life in North Korea. We should reveal the individuality and personality of the people, and steer well clear of—and actively deconstruct—simplistic portrayals of “brainwashed automatons”.
We should focus on the changes happening in North Korea. The North Korean people are driving significant grassroots changes inside their country, which are transforming North Korean society from the bottom up. These changes are challenging the regime’s control and discrediting the current system’s legitimacy. Therefore, the people should be portrayed as active agents of change, not passive victims of indoctrination.