There has been a lot of news and rumors surrounding Kim Jong-un’s health lately. The short answer: he’s probably alive. But there are a couple of reasons why rumors regarding his health are circulating.
Kim Jong-un’s last public appearance was on April 11th. A few days later, on April 15th he was conspicuously missing on the “Day of the Sun”, one of North Korea’s most important holidays which honors the birthday of his grandfather, the founder of North Korea. Since taking power in 2011, he has always made a public appearance on this day.
A rough equivalent to the significance of him missing this celebration would be the Pope missing Christmas mass – his absence would definitely be noticed.
Where was Kim Jong-un? No one really knows. But Daily NK, a news outlet with secret sources inside North Korea, reported on April 20 that they had received information from a single source that he had heart surgery on April 12th. Reportedly, the surgery had gone well and Kim was recovering at one of his many villas under close supervision from a team of doctors.
There’s a huge demand for information surrounding North Korea and particularly the leadership. But news from inside the country is hard to verify and the North Korean regime typically does not refute rumors. Other governments have downplayed the reports but they don’t want to say exactly what they know and don’t know or reveal their intel sources. This all gives less credible media outlets and even social media accounts more room to proliferate unverifiable news stories that get the rumor mills turning.
Andray Abrahamian breaks down the chain of events that lead to these recent rumors in this blog piece for the Korea Economic Institute. He quotes Jeremy Turnstall, a pioneer in the field of media studies, “rumors tend to occur when there is an imbalance between an urgent demand for information and a failure in the supply.” The recent narrative on Kim Jong-un checks all the boxes. Lot’s of demand for new information and a serious lack of supply because the North Korean regime is so secretive and the North Korean people are forcibly isolated from the rest of the world.
We don’t know exactly what’s going on inside North Korea regarding Kim Jong-un. No one except those closest to him does. But it’s important to remember that while rumors about his health and wellbeing fill headlines and newspaper columns, the North Korean people continue to face very real, well-documented challenges because they were born in the world’s most authoritarian country. Learn more about the people of North Korea here.
*Looking for a more about where Kim Jong-un is? Check out this episode from NK News Podcast: Where in the world is Kim Jong Un?
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