In North Korea, tightly controlled glimpse of Games
August 30, 2004
SEOUL — Millions of people around the globe will have watched Sunday night’s closing ceremonies of the Athens Olympic Games, but what about the citizens of the world’s most hermetic society, North Korea?
According to North and South Korean media, Kim Jong Il’s government gave his country a small taste of the Games throughout their two-week duration, airing 30-minute snippets each night on the Korean Central Television Station, the state-controlled broadcast system.
But North Koreans didn’t see the 100-meter dash finals. Or any of the marquee swimming match-ups. Or even the soccer competition, which enthralled South Korean fans still buzzing with football fever after the 2002 World Cup.
Instead, North Korean television focused its nightly half-hour broadcasts on “friendly” nations: China, Cuba, Hungary, Romania and Russia, according to North Korea watchers in Seoul. One notable exception was airing a South Korean judo star’s gold-medal performance early in the games. It was the first time North Korea had aired an event with a South Korean, officials said.
Curiously, North Korean defectors told South Korean media, more than 70 percent of the North’s broadcasts have been of women’s events, including beach volleyball and gymnastics.
“If the past is any guide, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il might have instructed officials to air such events, noting that his people do not know the world well,” a North Korean defector who had worked for Korean Central Television Station told South Korean media.
“It is a big change,” the unnamed defector said, noting that the events featured female athletes competing in outfits that would be considered revealing in the North.
According to South Korea’s Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), the North’s Olympic feeds are provided for free by the South. KBS has television rights and has been feeding programs via satellite to the North Korean television system.
North Korea sent 35 athletes to compete in nine events, according to an official Olympic Games Web site. But, according to North Korean media, one of the nation’s best athletes was not sent.
Kim Jong-Il — the dictator who rules in a cult of personality revolving around himself and his late father — is a “world class” sharpshooter, said the North’s Korean Central News Agency. And if he had been competing, it reported, North Korea “would have been sure to win a gold medal.”
In South Korea, winning athletes are treated as heroes. Jung Ji-hyun, a 22-year-old wrestler, won a gold medal in the Greco-Roman wrestling competition. As a reward, according to South Korean media outlets, Jung will get 200 million won (about $173,000) in cash, and perhaps an even better prize: being exempted from mandatory military service.