The best fake news stories broadcast by North Korean media
From disputing Obama’s birth certificate to claiming to be the most ill-treated political leader in history, US President Donald Trump is now pretty much the undisputed king of fake news - so much so that he even claimed to have invented the word “fake”. But ridiculous as he may be, there is perhaps one world leader who challenges his crown in the outrageous stakes: the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
To be fair, the younger Kim can’t take all the credit, because when it comes to fake news the North Koreans are dab hands. Its media is arguably the most strictly controlled in the whole world and the regime has long been infamous for its unrelenting and outright ridiculous use of propaganda tools, which even extends to writing children’s literature. So for now, let’s put the “who’s the biggest faker” debate to one side, and take a look at some of the best fake news stories carried by North Korean media over the years.
1. That time North Korea made the world cup final
A couple of years ago a video emerged supposedly showing North Korea telling its citizens the country had made the world cup final; despite being seized on by news organisations it turned out to be a spoof, but now a series of drawings have shown it might not be that far from the truth after all. The images show the North Korean football team crying tears of joy after taking the World Cup title, despite the fact that in 2010 they never actually gained a single point after the group stages. Funnily enough, there were no post-match reports, and no celebratory open-top bus (or open- top missile) parades. We wonder how they will get on at Russia 2018?
2. That Olympic gold medal haul
Keen to keep the pretence of being the world’s greatest sporting nation afloat, the North Korean regime also distributed a series of images showing runner Jong Song-ok winning gold at the Sydney Olympic games. This was kind of an odd choice, considering that they actually did win four medals - one silver and three bronze - but no one mentioned those. I guess there’s no point coming second when you’re aiming for world domination.
3. That time they discovered unicorns
If you didn’t already think the regime were living in the land of the fairies, this one will probably make you believe it. In 2012, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) delivered the quite literally unbelievable news that archaeologists had discovered a magical unicorn lair, just outside of Pyongyang. What’s more, the unicorns had been ridden by an ancient Korean King, taking the moniker of “Hermit Kingdom” to a whole new level. How it took them so long to find it is a mystery, considering there was apparently a big sign saying “unicorn lair” outside of it. Magical, but maybe not so observant, hey?
4. That their scientists created hangover-free alcohol
Ahhh, the one we would all love to be true: that thanks to North Korea, the world would be blessed with alcohol that will leave you feeling just as fresh the next day. This would instantly become the country’s biggest export. The state run newspaper that carried the story claimed that despite being 30 to 40 per cent by volume, the beverage "exudes national flavour" and is made using organic, indigenous ingredients with less sugar and glutinous rice used to remove the hangover causing properties. The drink didn’t seem to catch on though, because every year North Korea still imports millions of dollars worth of spirits, and that’s on top of Kim Jong-Un’s notorious penchant for fine wines.
5. That time Kim Jong-il played a world record golf round
We’re not sure quite why so many of these records are sporting related, but this one is proof that anything normal people can do, the Kim’s can do better. In 1994, news reports showed Kim playing a round of golf that bagged him 11 hole-in-ones and in which he came in 38 under par. He was obviously a natural, because it was in fact his first ever round. If only golf had been an Olympic sport at the time and all those golds could have been a reality - not that it would have mattered though, as he announced his sporting retirement immediately after the game.
6. That Kim Jong-il is a worldwide fashion icon
When you think of fashion icons, who is it you think of? Kate Moss? Audrey Hepburn? Rihanna? Whoever it is, it’s a safe bet that Kim Jong-il wasn’t the first name that popped into your head. But according to North Korean news websites, back in the 2010s his khaki suits gripped the fashion world and became the must-have style statement of the moment. They even quoted an unidentified (read: made up) French stylist who explained his effect on fashion: "Kim Jong-Il mode which is now spreading expeditiously worldwide is something unprecedented in the world's history." I for one am entirely convinced.
7. That the Kims don’t use the toilet
One of life’s greatest levellers has got to be that no matter glamorous or grandiose your place in society is, we all possess the same basic bodily functions. Yep, even the Queen farts sometimes! However, according to Korean state media there is one exception to this rule - well actually, two - because Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il apparently did not defecate, like, ever. This, as we all know, is a load of crap, but supposedly helped to reinforce their god-like status. Kim Jong-un has now dropped a bomb this story; he has someone to carry a personal toilet with him wherever he goes. It's one way to beat the queue, I suppose.
Humorous as these stories may be, in a country where televisions are provided by the government and registered by the police, and internet access is reserved for a select few, the impact of state media cannot be underestimated; it is often the only knowledge and connection citizens have of the world beyond North Korea’s borders. Yet, things are changing. Experts estimate that in the past few years the number of illicit mobile phones smuggled in from China has increased dramatically, and that Western and Chinese DVDs and CDs are now commonly available on the black market. Although these are limited in their scope, they do show that the regime cannot maintain its facade forever.