North Korea’s state media have erased almost their entire online archives since the execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle Jang Song-thaek.
The removal of tens of thousands of articles is the largest deletion ever carried out by the official KCNA news agency and the Rodong Sinmun newspaper.
Several reports mentioning Jang had already been edited to remove references to him and other aides, while footage had also been cut so that it no longer included him, but subsequently all articles from before October appear to have been removed from KCNA’s North Korea-hosted site.
It is unclear whether they will be reposted at some point or have disappeared for good.
The mass deletion was spotted by NK News, a Web site covering North Korea.
BIG KILL RATIO
Frank Feinstein, a New Zealand-based programmer who tracks online media for NK News, told the site: “There were 35,000 articles dated September 2013 or earlier on KCNA in Korean. If they’re leaving the odd one in, it’s still a kill ratio of 98-99%.”
Translations in English, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese were also deleted, he said. Another 20,000 articles had vanished from the archives of Rodong Sinmun.
Chad O’Carroll, founder of NK News, said the “Orwellian” deletions appeared to have been done between Friday and Saturday, following selective editing and deletion of articles mentioning Jang.
In the past there have been “20 or 30 articles that disappeared for no apparent reason, but nothing on this scale,” O’Carroll said. “It will be very interesting to see whether the deletion sticks.”
While a Japanese-hosted KCNA site still has older archive material, O’Carroll said it is run from outside North Korea and has never carried all the agency’s material.
Only a tiny proportion of North Koreans have access to the Internet, meaning that the Web archives are used primarily by those outside the country.
Internally, information is tightly controlled by the regime — most economic statistics are classified, as well as more obviously sensitive information. Revising documents is also common.
Andrei Lankov, an expert on North Korea, said in his book The Real North Korea that when he lived in Pyongyang in the 1980s, “the authorities took care to isolate the populace not only from the foreign media, but also from the official publications of earlier years.”
“All North Korean periodicals, and a significant number of publications on social and political topics, were regularly removed from common access libraries and could only be perused by people with special permission,” Lankov said.
“This rule was obviously introduced to ensure that the changes in the policy line of the regime would remain unnoticeable to the populace,” Lankov added.