North Korea | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

North Korea

North Korea

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

98

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

39

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

29

Though some citizens gained access to alternative information via pirated DVDs and illegal shortwave radios, North Korea remained the most repressive media environment in the world in 2007. The one-party regime headed by Kim Jong-il places severe restrictions on media freedom, attempts to regulate all communication, and rigorously limits the ability of North Koreans to access information. Although the constitution guarantees freedom of speech, in practice constitutional provisions for obeying a “collective spirit” restrict all reporting that is not sanctioned by the government. All journalists are members of the ruling party, and all media are mouthpieces for the regime. Journalists are punished harshly for even the smallest errors. The North Korean media portray all dissidents and the foreign media as liars attempting to destabilize the government, and authorities sharply curtail the ability of foreign journalists to gather information by claiming their cellular telephones upon arrival, preventing them from talking to people in the street, and constantly monitoring their movements. Under the penal code, listening to foreign broadcasts and possessing dissident publications are “crimes against the state” and carry grave punishments, including hard labor, prison sentences, and the death penalty. The aid group Good Friends reported that in October 2007, a man was publicly executed for having made a large number of international phone calls.

Newspaper, television, and radio reports typically consist of praise for Kim Jong-il, often focusing on his daily activities. Radios must be registered with the police and are preset to government frequencies. However, the emergence of black markets in the past decade has provided some alternative sources of information, especially for those near the South Korean or Chinese borders. Some entrepreneurs carry cell phones, and a significant portion of North Koreans are aware of the outside world through shortwave radios and pirated DVDs of South Korean dramas smuggled in from China. Surveys of defectors show that a growing, though still unclear, proportion of North Koreans have access to broadcasts by Radio Free Asia, the South Korean public radio station KBS, or Free North Korea, a radio station run by North Korean refugees living in the South. In an attempt to curb the growing access to outside information, the authorities throughout 2007 took measures such as raiding homes in search of illegal DVDs and players, confiscating television remote controls, and resoldering radios and television sets that had been unsealed. They also renewed efforts to jam South Korean and other foreign radio broadcasts that reach the North, including one aimed at any surviving Japanese abductees.

All media in North Korea are owned by the state. However, in 2007, a Japanese journalist and several North Korean refugees launched the first newsmagazine to be based on independent reporting from inside the country, conducted by specially trained undercover journalists using hidden cameras. The first issue of the bimonthly Rimjingang, which aims to cover the general views of North Koreans along with their reactions to unfolding events within the country, was published in November 2007, with plans to distribute it in both North and South Korea. Internet access is restricted to a handful of high-level officials who have received state approval and to 200 or so foreigners living in the capital, Pyongyang; all foreign websites are blocked by the state. For most North Koreans with computer access, web browsing takes place only on the state-run intranet called Kwangmyong, which restricts access to a few dozen government-sponsored websites.