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Internet censorship in North Korea

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Internet censorship in North Korea

The media of North Korea is among the most strictly controlled in the world. The constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press; however, the government prohibits the exercise of these rights in practice, unless it is in praise of the country and its government and leader. The government not only tightly controls all information coming in and out of the country, but seeks to mold information at its source. A typical example of this was the death of Kim Jong-iI, news of which was not divulged until two days after it occurred. Kim Jong-un, who replaced his father as leader, has given every indication he will largely follow in his father's footsteps, however new technologies are being developed, and being made more freely available in the country. State-run media outlets are setting up websites, while mobile phone ownership in the country has escalated rapidly. By early 2012 there were more than a million mobile phone owners in North Korea.[1]

Reporters Without Borders has consistently ranked North Korea at or near the bottom of its yearly Press Freedom Index since it was first issued in 2002. In its 2011-2012 report, RSF classified North Korea's media environment as 178th out of 179 countries in the rankings, only above that of Eritrea.[2]

The state news agency, the Korean Central News Agency, provides the only source of information for all media outlets in North Korea.[3]


Press freedom

The press is tightly controlled by the state. Article 53 of the North Korean Constitution protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In practice, the government only allows speech that supports it and the ruling party, the Workers' Party of Korea.[4] As stated in the Constitution, the role of the press is to:

"...serve the aims of strengthening the dictatorship of the proletariat, bolstering the political unity and ideological conformity of the people and rallying them behind the Party and the Great Leader in the cause of revolution."[5]

The late Kim Jong-il's book, Guidance for Journalists, advises that "newspapers carry articles in which they unfailingly hold the president in high esteem, adore him and praise him as the great revolutionary leader".[6] Media reports in North Korea are often one-sided and exaggerated, playing "little or no role in gathering and disseminating vital information true to facts" and providing propaganda for the regime.[7]

All North Korean journalists are members of the Workers' Party.[8] Candidates for journalism school must not only prove they are themselves ideologically clean, but must come from politically reliable families.[9] Journalists who do not follow the strict laws face punishment in the form of hard labour or imprisonment, even for the smallest typing errors.[2][8] Only news that favours the regime is permitted, whilst news that covers the economic and political problems in the country, or criticisms of the regime from abroad is not allowed.[10] Domestic media and the population itself are not allowed to carry or read stories by foreign media and can be punished for doing so.[8]

Restrictions are also placed on the foreign journalists that are allowed into the country under supervision, though many are not permitted to enter.[8] All the information gathered by newspapers and magazines is disseminated by the main news agency, KCNA. No private press exists.[10] The media effectively paints the country in a positive light, describing itself "paradise on earth".[11] With this, it encourages the population to adopt the "socialist lifestyle" — on one occasion an intensive media campaign was launched against men with long hair, claiming it reduces intelligence.[12]

Cult of personality

The media have consistently upheld the personality cult of the Kim family since the country's formation. It frequently reported on the activities of late leader Kim Jong-Il, regularly reporting on his daily activities, frequently including "prayers" to founding leader Kim Il-Sung. Previously, media would refer to Kim Jong-Il as the "Dear Leader", though this was dropped in 2004.[13] However, in January 1981, during the first few months of Kim Jong-Il's entry into politics, a survey revealed economic concerns in the media, rather than upholding the cult—60% to 70% of media coverage was focused on the economy in January that year, and between January and September, 54% of editorials in the Nodung Sinmun also referred to economic problems, with only 20% on politics, 10% on reunification and 4% on foreign affairs.[14] All indications are that this has continued under the country's third and current leader, Kim Jong-un; soon after his father's death he was acclaimed as the "Great Successor."[15]

Approximately 90% of airtime on international news broadcasts in North Korea is propaganda spent describing the publication of works by Kim Jong-il and showing various study groups in foreign countries, in an effort to allegedly mislead the North Korean public as to the outside world's perceptions of the country.[16] When Kim Jong-il visited Russia in August 2001, official DPRK media reported Russians as being "awestruck" by the encounter, revering Kim Jong-il's ability to "stop the rain and make the sun come out".[17]

Domestic and international coverage

The media is used to promote contrasting domestic and international agendas. Kim Il-Sung was said to recognise its power to influence North Koreans and confuse the outside world.[17] Often, news is released to the international community and withheld from the domestic North Korean population, and other news is released domestically but not internationally.[18] The media closely follows any foreign country's (particularly South Korea, Israel, Japan and the United States) relevant policies towards the country; any actions deemed unfavourable to the DPRK, its leaders or political system are strongly condemned in the official media.[19]

Though some international news coverage is given in DPRK media, much is ignored,[20] is mentioned very briefly,[21] or is announced several days after the event, as was the case with the Ryongchon disaster in 2004.[22][23] Reports are also notoriously secretive. The media remained silent on domestic issues, by not reporting on economic reforms introduced by the government such as increasing wages and food prices,[24] rarely mentioning Kim Jong-il until his first party position in 1980[25] and the launching of missiles.[26] Restrictions on the dissemination of information do not only apply to the civilian population, but to North Korean officials themselves, depending on ranking.[27]

In contrast, the idea of reunification of the two Koreas is a pervasive theme in the North Korean media,[28] as is the near constant "threat" of an "imminent attack" by the United States, Japan, Israel, or other nations.[29] In recent years, the media describes in detail satellite launches launched by the country as a sign of the DPRKs "economic prowess."[29] The media rarely reports bad news from the country; however on one rare occasion, the press acknowledged a famine and food shortages in the 1990s.[30]

It has had a role in supporting anti-government demonstrations in South Korea; in the late 1980s it launched a propaganda campaign urging South Koreans to "fight against the 'government' without concessions and compromise", using false claims to portray the demonstrations as fighting for communism, which, rather, were in support of liberal democracy.[31] It continues to support South Korean anti-government groups, quoting relevant societies and unions critical of the government policy[32] and denouncing government "crackdowns", calling for freedom of expression and democracy for South Korean citizens.[33] From January 1 to June 22, 2009, North Korean media was reported to have criticised the South Korean president 1,700 times — an average of 9.9 times daily.[34]

During the Khrushchev era of the Soviet Union when relations were tense, North Korean media would openly reprint articles critical of the USSR, often written by North Korean officials.[35] However, once relations between the DPRK and Soviet Union improved, the articles would no longer appear.[36] In the following years, both North Korean and Russian media would play down sensitive anniversaries.[37]

Editorial practices

Editorial practices in North Korean media are reflective of the country's foreign policy. South Korean government ministries and laws are referred to in quotations, such as the "Ministry of Defense" or "National Security Law", to imply illegitimacy, places like the United States, Israel, and Japan are usually referred as the "evil empire".


North Korea has 12 principal newspapers and 20 major periodicals, all published in Pyongyang.[38] Foreign newspapers are not sold on the streets of the capital.[39] Every year, North Korean press jointly publishes a New Year editorial, also broadcast by KCNA, which regularly attracts the attention of the international news media.[40][41][42][43]

Newspapers include:

  • Rodong Sinmun (Labour Daily) - (Central Committee of the WPK)
  • Joson Inmingun (Korean People's Army Daily)
  • Minju Choson (Democratic Korea) - government organ
  • Rodongja Sinmum (Workers' Newspaper)
  • The Pyongyang Times (English-language; published in the capital)[39]

Several newspaper journalists from North Korea were secretly trained in China to secretly report on events inside North Korea. November 2007 marked the first publication of the Rimjingang magazine, which is distributed secretly in North Korea and in neighbouring countries. The magazine covers the economic and political situation in the country. The journalists have also provided footage of public executions to South Korean and Japanese media.[2]

Television and radio

Further information: Radio jamming in Korea

The television broadcasting is managed by the Central Broadcasting Committee of Korea (until 2009 called Radio and Television Committee of the DPRK ). Radio and TV sets in North Korea are supplied pre-tuned to North Korean stations and must be checked and registered with the police, though some North Koreans own Chinese radios which can receive foreign stations.[10] It is prohibited to tune into foreign broadcasts. There are four major television stations: Korean Central TV, Mansudae Television (a cultural station only available in the capital), Korean Educational and Cultural Network, and Kaesong Television (targets South Korea).[44] State television is always off air until its 5:00 pm evening news broadcast, except on Sundays which start at 6:00 am, and in emergency events or live events.[45]

All broadcast media in some way promotes the regime's ideologies and positions, such as juche, and regularly condemns actions by South Korea, Japan, Israel, the United States, and other nations. The media in recent years condemns the United Nations, and its position against the country's nuclear program.

Compared to Western newscasts, North Korean newscasts are very melodramatic in style. KCTV's principal newsreader from 1974 to 2012, Ri Chun-hee, was well known for the wavering, lofty tone she used in praising the nation's leaders and the hateful one she used in denouncing the West. Many North Korean journalists who have defected to the South have noted the contrasts with the more conversational South Korean broadcasting style.[9]

Due to the economic conditions in the country and the short broadcast day, radio is the most widely used medium. In 2006, there were 16 AM, 14 FM and 11 shortwave radio broadcast stations. The main radio stations are Pyongyang Radio and the Korean Central Broadcasting Station. There is also a black propaganda station called Propaganda Radio – which purports to be broadcasting from South Korea.[46] According to recent UN data, only 55 of every 1,000 North Koreans have a television set in their home. Some foreign broadcast radio stations (see external links) that target North Korea are often jammed, though this can vary. The authorities designate such foreign media as "enemies of the regime".[10]

South Korean television programmes cannot be received in North Korea due to incompatibilities between the television systems (PAL in North Korea and NTSC in South Korea) and the sets being pretuned, but watching them on VHS tapes on VCRs smuggled from China is relatively popular.[10] South Korean soap operas, movies and Western Hollywood movies according to defectors, are said to be spreading at a "rapid rate" throughout North Korea despite the threat of punishment; inspection teams are regularly bribed or allowed to watch the cassettes themselves.[47][48]

North Korean broadcasts have been picked up in South Korea,[49] and are monitored by the Unification Ministry in Seoul, which handles cross-border relations and media exchanges.[50]

Defectors are also streaming North Korean television broadcasts on the Internet. Korean Central TV stream


Access to foreign media

"A Quiet Opening: North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment" a study commissioned by the U.S. State Department and conducted by Intermedia and released May 10, 2012 shows that, despite extremely strict regulations and draconian penalties, North Koreans, particularly elite citizens, have increasing access to news and other media outside the state-controlled media authorized by the government. While access to the internet is tightly controlled, radio and DVDs are common media accessed, and in border areas, television.[54][55]

See also



  • Chong, Bong-uk. (1995). North Korea, the land that never changes: before and after Kim Il-sung. Naewoe Press.
  • Clippinger, Morgan E. (1981). "Kim Chong-il in the North Korean Mass Media: A Study of Semi-Esoteric Communication." Asian Survey. 21(3), 289—309.
  • Djankov, Simeon; McLeish, Caralee; Nenova, Tatiana & Shleifer, Andrei. (2003). "Who owns the media?" Journal of Law and Economics. 46, pp. 341–381.
  • Ford, G.; Kwon, S. (2008). North Korea on the brink: struggle for survival. Pluto Press. ISBN 978-0-7453-2598-9.
  • Goodkind, Daniel; West, Loraine. (2001). "The North Korean Famine and Its Demographic Impact." Population and Development Review. 27(2), 219—238.
  • Hassig, Kongdan Oh; Bermudez Jr, Joseph S.; Gause, Kenneth E.; Hassig, Ralph C.; Mansorov, Alexandre Y.; Smith, David J. (2004). "North Korean Policy Elites." Institute for Defense Analysis..
  • Hodge, Homer T. (2003). "North Korea's Military Strategy." Parameters. 33.
  • Kim, Mike. (2008). Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World's Most Repressive Country. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-7425-5620-1.
  • Kim, Samuel S. (2006). The two Koreas and the great powers. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-66063-1.
  • Kun, Joseph H. (1967). "North Korea: Between Moscow and Peking." The China Quarterly. 31, 48—58.
  • Hunter, Helen-Louise. (1999). Kim Il-song's North Korea. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-275-96296-8.
  • Marshall Cavendish Corporation; Macdonald, Fiona; Stacey, Gillian; Steele, Phillip. (2004). Peoples of Eastern Asia. Marshall Cavendish. ISBN 978-0-7614-7553-8.
  • Oh, Kang Dong & Hassig, Ralph C. (2000). North Korea through the looking glass. Brookings Institution Press. ISBN 978-0-8157-6435-9.
  • Pervis, Larinda B. (2007). North Korea Issues: Nuclear Posturing, Saber Rattling, and International Mischief. Nova Science Publishers. ISBN 978-1-60021-655-8.
  • Pinkston, Daniel A. (2003). "Domestic politics and stakeholders in the North Korean missile development program." The Nonproliferation Review. 10(2), 51—65.
  • Quick, Amanda, C. (2003). World Press Encyclopedia: N-Z, index. Gale. ISBN 978-0-7876-5584-6.
  • Savada, Andrea Matles. (1994). North Korea: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division Library of Congress. ISBN 0-8444-0794-1.
  • Shin, Rin-Sup. (1982). "North Korea in 1981: First Year for De Facto Successor Kim Jong Il." Asian Survey. 22(1), 99—106.
  • Zagoria, Donald S. (1977). "Korea's Future: Moscow's Perspective." Asian Survey. 17(11), 1103—1112.
  • Zhebbin, Alexander. (1995). "Russia and North Korea: An Emerging, Uneasy Partnership." Asian Survey. 35(8), 726—739.

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.
 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the CIA World Factbook.

External links

News agency

  • Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)
  • KNS Photo Service (Korean)


  • on KCNA (Korean)
  • (based in Japan)
  • (Japanese) (based in Japan)

North Korean online media aimed at foreign audience

  • Uriminzokkiri (Among Our Nation) (Korean)
  • Uriminzokkiri (English)
  • North Korean TV Segments (Korean with English subtitles)

Foreign media targeted at North Korea

  • North Korea Times
  • Open Radio for North Korea (ORNK)
  • Radio Free Asia
  • Radio Free Chosun


  • From Dawn to Dusk: A Discourse Analysis of North Korean State Media
  • Reporters Without Borders

Circumvention techniques and software

  • FLOSS Manual, 10 March 2011, 240 pp.

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