For many publications (not to name any specifically) North Korea acts as an easy target to help out on slow news days. When it comes to the DPRK, it is much easier to exaggerate a half-truth, twist the truth, or best still? Simply make something up.
We have compiled a list of our five favourite fake news stories, although the list could have been much, much longer.
5) North Korea beat Brazil in the World Cup/Won the World Cup
This is one of our particular favorites, and it goes a little something like this. Back in 2010, North Korea achieved the amazing feat of qualifying for the world cup, where they were drawn in their opening game against Brazil. The story goes that North Korea edited the footage, and, or lied about the result so that their people thought they had won the match (there is even an extended variant that claims they won the World Cup). Alas, I was in Pyongyang for that match. Actually after losing 2-1 to Brazil the Koreans not only saw the game, and received the correct result, but were mightily proud of how well they did against the five times world champions.
4) Marshall Kim Jong Un fed his uncle to the dogs
Whilst it is not in any dispute that Marshal Kim Jong Un had his uncle executed, what is in dispute and has been completely debunked is the story that he fed him to a pack of baying starving dogs. The story came about when Hong Kong’s 7th most popular newspaper (somewhat akin to a cross between the National Enquirer in America, and the Daily Sport in the UK) reported it from “unnamed sources”. If you are not familiar with either of these publications they are much more likely to report on stories about aliens, or pop stars eating hamsters. Now whilst this story should have been completely debunked it is still often quoted by mainstream media as having “allegedly” happened. Despite being false, when you are North Korea it is hard to get rid of the accusations. The fact is that in the DPRK, we are the ones most likely to be eating the dogs; not the other way round.
3) Everyone in North Korea is forced to get a Kim Jong Un haircut
This is without doubt one of our favorites, and one we were invited to comment on and refute. The original story, which was regurgitated many times by western media was that every male (females were exempt) in North Korea was required to get a Kim Jong Un haircut. Despite the story being initially reported by the notoriously unreliable DailyNK, this didn’t stop the world going crazy about it. The truth is much less interesting. Whilst you are never going to see a Korean with a purple punk rocker do, North Koreans do have a choice in how their hair is cut.
2) No one has heard of “Gangnam Style”
OK – so this one is potentially a bit misleading as it is true to say that the majority of North Koreans, such as those in the countryside, or without access to foreign media would not have heard of the song. For a decent proportion of people in big cities there is actually a lot more access to foreign media, both south Korean and otherwise than most people would expect. So in fact when guests do the “gangnam dance” in front of Korean tour guides it usually results in rolled eyes and a sarcastic “No, I’ve never heard of Gangnam Style”. They’ve heard it. They know about. Like the rest of the world, they also think it is shit.
1) Kim Jong Il scored a 36 at golf
This is our favourite quite simply because it is the godfather of all North Korean urban legends, a fact extenuated by how much it has changed over the years. When I first started going to North Korea 9 years ago the story was that Kim Jong Un scored 18 hole in ones the first time he ever played golf. This story did the rounds for a few years until it was amended to a 36, or on occasion 42, with the number of hole in ones going up and down depending on the story teller. Again the only problem with this story is that it was concocted outside Korea, and that it was never ever said in the country. A fake story, but great at setting the benchmark for how outragious a story you can make before someone yells shenanigans.