North Korea couldn’t possibly announce a nuclear test without the exuberant but stern voice of Ri Chun-hee.
The stoic anchor, clad in traditional clothing, has been the face of missile launch and nuclear test claims over the years and even being in retirement since 2012 wasn’t going to change that.
Ri appeared Wednesday on the country’s sole television station — a propaganda arm of the repressive and hostile government — to tell North Koreans and the world the reclusive nation had just successfully conducted a hydrogen (or thermonuclear) bomb test.
International officials are challenging the legitimacy of the hydrogen bomb claim.
But world leaders and the UN Security Council have widely condemned the rogue nation and have already threatened a new round of sanctions against North Korea — also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
To the outside world, her face and voice have become synonymous with North Korean aggression. But to North Koreans, Ri was long-trusted spokeswoman of the Korean Workers Party.
“Her voice grew to have an appeal so that whenever she would speak on the news, viewers were touched,” Reuters quoted a 2008 article in the North Korean Chosun Magazine. “When Ri announced reports and statements, enemies would tremble in fear.”
Now 72, Ri began her television career with government-controlled Korean Central Television in 1971 and she remained at the news desk until she stepped away from her role four years ago this month.
She has served under all three generations of the Kim dynasty — the nation’s founding ruler Kim Il-sung, his son and successor Kim Jong-il and now his grandson Kim Jong-un.
As resonant as her voice has been over four decades, her on-air read wasn’t as fierce the day she broke the news of the 2011 death of Jong-il.
Her voice quivered and she quietly sobbed and held back tears as she read her way through the delivery of Jong-il’s passing — much like when she broke the news of Il-Sung’s death in 1994.
In a 2012 interview with the Chinese state-run CCTV, Ri appeared much more temperate than in the clips that often get broadcast around the globe when the DPRK rattles its saber at South Korea, the U.S., Japan or most other countries it opposes.
“When we greet the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, we shouldn’t sound as if we are shouting but speak gently to viewers,” she said in the interview, telling the Chinese broadcaster the tone of her read depends on the story.
Described by CCTV as “an anchor with an attitude,” she spoke modestly about her departure from the airwaves.
“Many anchorwomen now are very young and beautiful and more suited to appear on television.”
Ri lives in DPRK’s capital Pyongyang with her husband, children and grandchildren.