By Kim Young-jin
North Korea’s massive spending on weapons is apparently causing the regime to skimp on overseas promotion, as reports say its official English-language website was redesigned using a $15 template.
Michael DiTanna, a student at Fordham University, was researching the North’s media when he discovered that korea-dpr.com was based on a template from Blender, an open-source computer graphics software product.
DiTanna noticed it had recently been given a facelift, but that designers had not thoroughly hidden the source code, providing clues to its origin.
The impoverished North, whose failed rocket launch earlier this month cost an estimated $850 million, is increasingly using the Internet as a means of promotion, including through recently-opened Facebook and Twitter accounts.
The Stalinist regime blocks its citizens from accessing the Web except in rare cases.
According to Fox, the template was created by Robert Westmore, a Web designer in California and sold on ThemeForest.com, an online exchange site.
“Honestly, I didn't even know North Korea had a website,” Westmore was quoted as saying. Templates such as his are often used to design personal blogs.
The site says it was originally opened in 2000 by the (North) Korea Friendship Association, which aims to build ties with other countries in culture, business and other fields.
Cast in dark colors and featuring images of the North’s leaders, the site provides propaganda on the North’s leaders as well as information on tourism and business in the Stalinist state. It features an “E-library” filled with works by late country founder Kim Il-sung and late leader Kim Jong-il.
The North alleges that the site averages some 12 million hits per month and aims to promote “international ties of friendship such travels to the country, exhibitions, conferences, various cultural events and undertakings,” according to sources with access to the site.
The site is blocked here under the National Security Law.
In 2010, the North made a splash by opening Facebook and Twitter accounts that deliver propaganda aimed at the South to followers. Seoul quickly shut down the sites.
Air Koryo opened a Facebook page that surprised observers by being user-friendly and even engaging in witty repartee with visitors.
The website renovation comes as the North faces increasing international isolation over its latest long-range rocket launch, which earned a U.N. Security Council presidential statement deploring the act.
Pyongyang claimed it intended to send a satellite into orbit but it was widely viewed as a ballistic missile test.
Making matters worse, the regime last week rolled out what appeared to be a new ballistic missile on a 16-wheel vehicle among some 880 pieces of military hardware, during a military parade to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of its late founder Kim Il-sung.