Censorship in North Korea

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Censorship in North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) ranks among some of the most extreme in the world, with the government able to take strict control over communications. North Korea is routinely ranked at the bottom of Reporters Without Borders' annual Press Freedom Index, occupying the very last place in 2017.

All media outlets are strictly owned and controlled by the North Korean government. As such, every media in North Korea gets its news from the Korean Central News Agency. The media dedicates a large portion of its resources toward political propaganda and promoting the personality cult of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il[1] and Kim Jong-un. The government of Kim Jong-un still has absolute authority over and control of the press and information.[2]

Radio and television censorship[edit]

Radio or television sets which can be bought in North Korea are preset to receive only the government frequencies and sealed with a label to prevent tampering with the equipment. It is a serious criminal offence to manipulate the sets and receive radio or television broadcasts from outside North Korea. In a party campaign in 2003, the head of each party cell in neighborhoods and villages received instructions to verify the seals on all radio sets.[3]

As North and South Korea traditionally have used different analog television systems (PAL and NTSC respectively), it has not been possible to view broadcasts across the border between the two countries without additional equipment.[citation needed]

According to the Daily NK, it is possible to broadcast news for North Korea through short-wave radio. Possessing a short-wave radio is against the law in North Korea, but the radios are allegedly confiscated and resold by corrupted agents of secret police.[4]

"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, found that despite extremely strict regulations and draconian penalties, North Koreans, particularly the elites, 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.[5][6] Up to one in two urban households own a Notel (also called Notetel), a portable media player made in China which has been popular in North Korea since about 2005 and was legalized in 2014, and has been credited with facilitating the extension of the "Korean Wave" (Hallyu, the increase of the popularity of South Korean pop culture internationally) into North Korea.[7][8][9]

As of 2011, USB flash drives were selling well in North Korea, primarily used for watching South Korean dramas and films on personal computers.[10]

Journalism in North Korea[edit]

North Korea is routinely ranked at the bottom of the Press Freedom Index rankings published annually by Reporters Without Borders. From 2002 through 2006, the country was listed as the worst in the world and from 2007 to 2016, it was listed second to last (behind Eritrea) of some 180 countries.[11][12][13][14] In 2017, North Korea was ranked the worst again.[15]

To become a journalist in North Korea, one has to graduate from college. After an ideology review and a strict background check, the student is drafted by the college dean and the managers. The drafted journalist will normally go through a probation period of 4 to 5 years and is then stationed after an assessment.

In North Korea, journalism as a job is to guard, defend, and advocate for and defend both the party and party head's ideologically. Since the role is defined as being a political activist and a fighter who can mobilize a crowd, a journalist in North Korea should be a true Kim Il-sung-ist and a fervent political activist, with a war correspondent spirit and political qualification. Journalists in North Korea are reeducated continuously.

The organization that takes charge of the reeducation of journalists in North Korea is the 'Chosen Reporter Alliance.' It is the strongest and the most systematized organization among the reporters and journalists' political idea education organizations. Usually the organization trains journalists and reporters intensively on philosophy, economics, world history, world literature, foreign language, etc.

Arguing about the contradictions in the system of North Korea itself is considered treason and is treated as a major violation in North Korean society. Over 70 percent of reports of Korean Central Broadcasting are allotted for Kim's idolization and propaganda system. The rest of the reports are spent on blaming and predicting the collapse of the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

The Reporters in North Korea spend their time writing flattering articles about Kim. Kim Jong il used to punish the people who wrote from different point of view, saying "Words describe one's ideas."[16]

After reeducation, a journalist who works for over 15 years and has made a major contribution is titled a 'distinguished journalist.'[17]


In 2006, Julien Pain, head of the Internet Desk at Reporters Without Borders, described North Korea as the world's worst Internet black hole[18] in its list of the top 13 Internet enemies.[19]

Internet access is not generally available in North Korea. Only some high-level officials are allowed to access the global internet.[20] In some universities, a small number of strictly monitored computers are provided. Other citizens may only get access to the country's own intranet, called Kwangmyong.[21] Foreigners can access the internet using the 3G phone network.[22][23]

Internet access is restricted to regime elites and select university students. The state has created its own substitute "internet" – but even this network is restricted to certain elite grade schools, select research institutions, universities, factories, and privileged individuals. Moreover, the intranet is filtered by the Korea Computer Center, which ensures that only information deemed acceptable by the government can be accessed through the network.[24]

The North Korean Ullim, an Android-based tablet, on sale since 2014, has a high level of inbuilt surveillance and controls.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Kim Jong Il's leadership, key to victory". Naenara. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved January 27, 2006. 
  2. ^ "North Korea ranked the world worst in Freedom of Press". Voice of America. Retrieved February 12, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Radio gives hope to North and South Koreans". CNN Asia. February 27, 2008. Retrieved April 28, 2010. 
  4. ^ Kevin Kane (5 March 2007). "Private Citizens Liberating North Korea with Shortwave Radio". Daily NK. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  5. ^ "Illicit access to foreign media is changing North Koreans' worldview, study says". The Washington Post. Associated Press. May 10, 2012. Retrieved May 10, 2012. 
  6. ^ Nat Kretchun; Jane Kim (May 10, 2012). "A Quiet Opening: North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment" (PDF). InterMedia. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 12, 2012. Retrieved May 10, 2012. The primary focus of the study was on the ability of North Koreans to access outside information from foreign sources through a variety of media, communication technologies, and personal sources. The relationship between information exposure on North Koreans' perceptions of the outside world and their own country was also analyzed. 
  7. ^ Pearson, James (March 27, 2015). "The $50 device that symbolizes a shift in North Korea". Reuters. 
  8. ^ "Cheap Chinese EVD player spreads S. Korean culture in N. Korea". Yonhap. October 22, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Diffusion de la vague coréenne "hallyu" au Nord par TV portable". Yonhap (in French). October 22, 2013. 
  10. ^ "North Korea's Nascent Consumerism". Asia Sentinel. 19 March 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2017. 
  11. ^ "Worldwide press freedom index". Reporters Without Borders. Retrieved January 9, 2008. 
  12. ^ "World Press Freedom Index". Voice of America. Retrieved February 12, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Map". 2014 World Press Freedom Index. Reporters Without Borders. 2014. Retrieved 21 April 2016. 
  14. ^ "Map". 2016 World Press Freedom Index. Reporters Without Borders. 2016. Retrieved 21 April 2016. 
  15. ^ "North Korea". Reporters Without Borders. 2017. Retrieved 2017-04-28. 
  16. ^ "North Korea controls over foreign countries' press" (in Korean). June 20, 2007. 
  17. ^ "What would be the role of the journalist in North Korea, the country remarked as the lowest in Freedom of Press?". Seunguk Baek. Retrieved December 20, 2014. 
  18. ^ "The Internet Black Hole That Is North Korea". The New York Times. October 23, 2006. 
  19. ^ "List of the 13 Internet enemies". Reporters Without Borders. Archived from the original on January 2, 2008. Retrieved January 9, 2008. 
  20. ^ "Freedom of the Press: North Korea". Freedom House. Retrieved 15 July 2014. 
  21. ^ Eric Talmadge (23 February 2014). "North Korea: Where the Internet has just 5,500 sites". Toronto Star. Associated Press. Retrieved 15 July 2014. 
  22. ^ "North Korea to offer mobile internet access". BBC. 22 February 2013. Retrieved 15 July 2014. 
  23. ^ Caitlin Dewey (26 February 2013). "Instagrams from within North Korea lift the veil, but only slightly". Washington Post. Retrieved 15 July 2014. 
  24. ^ Sedaghat, Nouran. "North Korea exposed: Censorship in the world's most secretive state". Archived from the original on May 9, 2015. 
  25. ^ Williams, Martyn (3 March 2017). "All That Glitters Is Not Gold: A Closer Look at North Korea's Ullim Tablet". 38 North. U.S.-Korea Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Retrieved 6 March 2017. 

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