North Korea | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

North Korea

North Korea

Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


Second-generation dictator Kim Jong-il rules this one-party state with military force and places severe restrictions on media freedom and on the ability of North Koreans to access information. All journalists are members of the ruling party, and all media are mouthpieces for the regime. The North Korean government runs a pervasive propaganda machine under which all journalism is dedicated to exalting Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il. Journalists are punished harshly for even the smallest of errors, such as misspelling the names of public officials. The regime portrays all dissident and foreign media as liars attempting to "destabilize the government." North Koreans face harsh punishments, including prison sentences and hard labor, for accessing foreign media. Newspaper, television, and radio reports typically consist of praise of Kim Jong-il, often focusing on his daily activities. As in China, official newspapers are posted publicly. The government engages in prior censorship of all news stories. The media have been forbidden from any mention of the famine that the UN estimates has killed millions in the last decade. In April, aid to the victims of a train accident in Ryongchon was hindered by a delay in reporting.

Radios must be registered with the police and are preset to government frequencies. According to an October 2004 report by Reporters sans frontieres, some North Koreans purchase a second radio set that is not registered with the police, enabling them to listen to broadcasts by Radio Free Asia and the South Korean public radio station KBS. The regime declared unrestricted radios "new enemies of the regime" in June, after a South Korean human rights group announced its intention to smuggle in hundreds of such radios in hopes of spurring North Koreans to resist the authorities or leave the country. FreeNK, the first radio station run by North Korean refugees living in the south, began broadcasting in February 2004 and has since been subject to threats against the station's employees and several private groups that support them. Most North Koreans do not own television sets or possess the right or the means to use the Internet. However, The New York Times has reported on the opening of a small number of Internet cafes in Pyongyang, the capital. One reason for cautious optimism concerning greater diffusion of information from outside Korea's borders is the regime's commitment to reviving the economy by conducting greater trade with China, encouraging South Korean tourism, and commencing manufacturing projects with South Korean companies in the Kaesong special economic zone. Trade has increased contacts with foreigners and may boost North Korean wealth over time, allowing more people to afford the means to gain access to international news reports.