News and Pyongyang's Middle Class

In our last post, we dated a propaganda shift to 2012, but, after further thought, we wonder if perhaps 2009 is another notable moment related to the coverage this tragic building collapse. That might be the first time that decision-makers realized that Pyongyang's citizens needed to be kept (somewhat) in the loop and that policies need to keep them happy - having the last functioning remnants of the PDS isn't good enough. The needs and aspirations of Pyongyangers now needs to be taken into account. There is a feedback mechanism through which their opinions filter upwards fairly quickly and the authorities need to decide how to respond to public opinion - especially the opinions of Pyongyangers - on particular issues.

This release of information about the collapse , vague and delayed though it was, reflects that awareness on behalf of the leadership. This understanding was birthed in the firey rage of the Pyongyang middle class that felt betrayed in 2009 after the sudden currency reform seriously damaged the savings of so many people. Pyongchon is central Pyongyang, they can't be aloof, especially on something so symbolic: housing is one thing that the central government still supplies and controls, despite an emerging property market.

Remember, five days is pretty rapid for the North Korean system. Once they realized that they needed to control the narrative on an event that is clearly going to get around not only town, but the countryside as well, they did take action. The article took five days to come out, once the preliminary story was set, though it wasn't front page news and they don't appear to be following up in the media. The story doesn't appear to have made an appearance on TV.

Regardless, the authorities want gossipers to be saying, "they've done a really good job fixing this tragedy." Their messaging, not just from this weekend, but in the days and weeks going forward will be interesting to watch.

Will there be ongoing coverage of firings of officials and heroic rescuer's tales? Will Kim Jong Un visit and show the human touch that has characterized his public image? Will they decide they don't know what to do about it and leave it at a single news release?  

Don't be surprised if any of those things happen - the authorities will be keeping an ear to the ground, no doubt, deciding how the message should evolve. Though perhaps we shouldn't read too much into it if there isn't much more coverage - our news environment has conditioned us to expect wall-to-wall coverage. North Koreans don't have the same expectations, even the middle class, with their TVs and tablets.