The voice of Pyongyang: star newsreader Ri Chun-hee adds to showreel with announcement of North Korea’s latest nuclear test
The announcer – believed to be in her early 70s – has appeared whenever North Korea wants to boast of its latest achievements
North Korea deployed its most trusted newsreader on Friday to herald the success of its fifth nuclear test on state television.
The special broadcast was aired at about 1pm Pyongyang time without prior notice, coming a few hours after South Korea said its neighbour had conducted another nuclear test.
Wearing her trademark pink and black traditional Korean dress, veteran announcer Ri Chun-hee smiled as she told viewers of KCTV – and the world – that the latest test had put the North’s nuclear programme on a “higher level”.
Using the country’s full, formal name – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – Ri said the test confirmed the country was capable of producing a nuclear warhead that could be mounted on strategic ballistic missiles.
“The standardisation of the nuclear warhead will enable the DPRK to produce at will ... a variety of smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads of higher strike power,” she intoned.
The star announcer – believed to be in her early 70s – has appeared whenever North Korea wants to boast of its latest achievements or needs to make an important announcement.
Ri was chosen to announce the deaths of the country’s founder Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il.
In Friday’s three-minute broadcast, which followed a propaganda film on the life of Kim Il-sung, Ri said the North stood ready to “retaliate against the enemies”.
“We will take further measures to bolster the state’s nuclear force in quality and quantity for safeguarding the dignity and the right to existence of the DPRK, and genuine peace from the US’s increasing threats of a nuclear war,” Ri thundered.
Until January, Ri had been in retirement after an illustrious career on the hermit kingdom’s only television channel. But she re-emerged on national to enthusiastically announce a previous claimed H-bomb test.
Ri, born in 1943, is an actress turned newscaster who first took to the air in 1971 when the North’s state TV channel was taking off. Her face has long been one of the few broadcast abroad and her stentorian reports thunder across airwaves in a land where the Dear Leader rarely speaks.
Slightly plump, with permed black hair, she has become an institution whose bombastic delivery decries the miseries inflicted upon the state by a hostile world while celebrating its military triumphs.
“With her rusty voice that is powerful and appealing, what could the [then] 65-year-old Ri have gone through to become the people’s broadcaster and hardworking hero?” the North’s Chosun Monthly magazine asked in a 2009 article.
Since the North’s state media is in the habit of answering the questions it poses, the magazine tells of Ri’s rise to fame, that of course was guided by state founder Kim Il-sung, who nurtured her “with warm love and faith”. Kim pushed her to be a broadcaster with fiery speech, the magazine said in one of the few North Korean news stories giving details of her life.
“As these days passed, her voice grew to have an appeal so that whenever she would speak on the news, viewers were touched. When Ri announced reports and statements, enemies would tremble in fear,” it added.
Experts in the North’s ideology said she was akin to a high priestess of the state’s propaganda apparatus who cannot be avoided in the hermit country where TV sets turn on and off but cannot change channel.
Over the years, she has denounced South Korea, Japan and the United States with frequency as she delivered news of the North’s two nuclear tests. She brimmed with pride while recounting the activities of Great Leader Kim Il-sung and Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, his son, as they toured military bases, cabbage patches and steel mills.
Usually dressed in traditional Korean clothes, Ri is the most trusted name in news in the North Korean state with expertise in propaganda and developing cults of personality for its leaders.
“She has a very aggressive voice, one that North Koreans would say ‘fills up the screen’,” said Kim Yong, who defected from the North and became a TV personality in South Korea. “Listening to South Korean newscasters when I first arrived sounded like hearing mum and dad talk in their room. The newscasters sometimes stumbled on words, while the ones in North Korea are never allowed to, or they’ll get fired.”
Ri lives in Pyongyang with her husband, children and grandchildren, the magazine story said.
“Ri Chun-hee with her microphone in hand, blessed by the leader, is still with her viewers today looking not a day older than before she was married,” it said.
Additional reporting by Reuters