Media of North Korea
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The media of North Korea is amongst the most strictly controlled in the world. The constitution nominally 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-il, 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 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.
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 2013–14 report, RWB classified North Korea's media environment as 178th out of 179 countries in the rankings, only above that of Eritrea.
Freedom of the press is tightly controlled by the state. Article 67 of the North Korean Constitution protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In practice, however, the government only allows speech that supports it and the ruling Workers' Party of Korea. As of 2017[update], North Korea occupies the last place on Reporters Without Borders' annual Press Freedom Index.
The late Kim Jong-il's book, The Great Teacher of 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". 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.
All North Korean journalists are members of the Workers' Party. Candidates for journalism school must not only prove themselves ideologically clean, but also come from politically reliable families. Journalists who do not follow the strict laws face punishment in the form of hard labour or imprisonment, even for the smallest typing errors. 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. Domestic media and the population itself are not allowed to carry or read stories by foreign media and can be punished for doing so.
Restrictions are also placed on the foreign journalists that are allowed into the country under supervision, though many are not permitted to enter. All the information gathered by newspapers and magazines is disseminated by the main news agency, KCNA. No private press exists. The media effectively paints the country in a positive light, describing itself "paradise on earth". 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.
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. 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 Rodong Sinmun also referred to economic problems, with only 20% on politics, 10% on reunification and 4% on foreign affairs. 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".
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. 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".
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. 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.
Though some international news coverage is given in DPRK media, much is ignored, is mentioned very briefly, or is announced several days after the event, as was the case with the Ryongchon disaster in 2004. 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, rarely mentioning Kim Jong-il until his first party position in 1980 and the launching of missiles. Restrictions on the dissemination of information do not only apply to the civilian population, but to North Korean officials themselves, depending on ranking.
In contrast, the idea of reunification of the two Koreas is a pervasive theme in the North Korean media, as is the near constant "threat" of an "imminent attack" by the foreign countries. In recent years, the media describes in detail satellite launches launched by the country as a sign of the DPRKs "economic prowess." 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.
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. It continues to support South Korean anti-government groups, quoting relevant societies and unions critical of the government policy and denouncing government "crackdowns", calling for freedom of expression and democracy for South Korean citizens. 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.
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. However, once relations between the DPRK and Soviet Union improved, the articles would no longer appear. In the following years, both North Korean and Russian media would play down sensitive anniversaries.
North Korea has 12 principal newspapers and 20 major periodicals, all published in Pyongyang. Foreign newspapers are not sold on the streets of the capital. 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.
- Rodong Sinmun (Labour Daily) – (Central Committee of the WPK)
- Joson Inmingun (Korean People's Army Daily)
- Minju Choson (Democratic Korea) – government organ
- Rodongja Sinmun (Workers' Newspaper)
- The Pyongyang Times (English-language; published in the capital)
Several newspaper journalists from North Korea were secretly trained in China to covertly 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.
Television and radio
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. It is prohibited to tune into foreign broadcasts. There are five major television stations: Korean Central TV, Mansudae Television (an educational station only available in Pyongyang), Ryongnamsan TV (former Korean Educational and Cultural Network), Kaesong Television (which targets South Korea) and the Sport Television (since August 15, 2015) State television is always off air until its 5:00 pm evening news broadcast, except on weekends, which start at 6:00 am, and in emergency events, live events and national holidays.
North Korean newscasts are known for their showmanship. KCTV's principal newsreader from 1974 to 2012, Ri Chun-hee, was well known for the wavering, exuberant tone she used when praising the nation's leaders and the hateful one she used in denouncing countries seen as hostile to the regime. Some North Korean journalists who have defected to the South have noted the contrasts with the more conversational South Korean broadcasting style.
All broadcast media in some way promotes the regime's ideologies and positions, such as Juche, and regularly condemns actions by South Korea, Japan, China, 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. Media is generally without adverts, though some advertisement of local brands occurs on Mansudae Television.
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. 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".
South Korean television programmes cannot be received in North Korea due to incompatibilities between the television systems (PAL in North Korea and NTSC/ATSC in South Korea) and the sets being pretuned. 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; As of 2011, USB flash drives were selling well in North Korea, primarily used for watching South Korean dramas and films on personal computers.
Defectors are also streaming North Korean television broadcasts on the Internet.
In August 2016, it was reported that North Korea had launched a state-approved video streaming service which has been likened to Netflix. The service, known as "Manbang" (meaning everyone) uses a set-top box to stream live TV, on-demand video and newspaper articles (from the state newspaper Rodong Sinmun) over the internet. The service is only available to citizens in Pyongyang, Siniju and Sariwon, perhaps because of the country's limited internet access. The state TV channel KCTV described the service as a "respite from radio interference".
Internet access in North Korea is restricted to Internet cafés or hotels designated for foreign tourists in Pyongyang, connected via a satellite link. A few of the government elite with state approval are connected to the internet via a link to China. The general population of North Korea do not have internet access, however the people do have access to Kwangmyong, an intranet set up by the government. North Korea itself has a limited presence on the internet, with several sites on their national .kp domain. The Mosquito Net filtering model used in North Korea attempts to attract foreign investment, while the filter simultaneously blocks foreign ideas.
Access to foreign media
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.
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- Rodong Sinmun
- Rodong Sinmun on KCNA (in Korean)
- The People's Korea (based in Japan)
- Choson Sinbo (in Japanese) (based in Japan)
North Korean online media aimed at foreign audience
- Uriminzokkiri (Among Our Nation) (in Korean)
- North Korean TV Segments (Korean with English subtitles)
Foreign media targeted at North Korea