rodong sinmun, newspaper
North Koreans reading the Rodong Sinmun. (Rodong Sinmun-News1)

The number of copies of the Rodong Sinmun circulated to businesses in rural North Korea has dropped significantly. As a result, a growing number of North Koreans lack regular access not only to international news but also to official propaganda.

“Deteriorating economic conditions have disrupted the distribution of the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea. The paper has completely ceased to function as a medium of propaganda, and people are losing interest in it as well,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The source cited the example of the Kyongwon Area Coal Mining Association in Kyongwon County, North Hamgyong Province. “The association would receive 300 copies of the Rodong Sinmun in late 2019, before COVID-19 began to spread, but the current distribution is down to 150,” the source explained.

In the past, the newspaper was distributed not only to the heads of the labor, material and technical departments, but also to ordinary workers. But now only the department heads receive a single copy of the newspaper.

Newspapers used to roll cigarettes or as toilet paper replacements

One might think that the Rodong Sinmun has become even more desirable in the face of declining newspaper circulation. But the paper is instead being used to roll cigarettes or as a substitute for toilet paper.

“Since cigarettes are expensive in Kyongwon County, people often roll their own cigarettes with tobacco leaves, and the Rodong Sinmun makes the best rolling paper. A cell secretary of the mining association sells all the copies of the newspaper he receives as rolling paper in the marketplace, except for the ones he’s supposed to give to others. And in fact, just about everyone else does the same thing,” the source said.

Under these circumstances, workers have little opportunity to read or even glance at the newspaper. As a result, they’re beginning to lose interest in the paper’s coverage, the source said.

“People weren’t interested in the paper because it was always covering the same topics, but the lack of access makes them even less interested. With the newspaper nowhere to be found and the television turned off because of the erratic power supply, people have no way of hearing the news or keeping up with current events,” the source said.

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

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