Signs of change in North Korea

By Bob Dietz/CPJ Asia Program Coordinator on May 17, 2012 5:56 PM ET

CPJ may have raised some eyebrows with this year's list of the world's 10 most censored countries. North Korea was relegated to the number two slot, behind Eritrea. In our last ranking, in 2006, we ranked North Korea as the worst, and many other organizations continue to do that.

But in justifying our decision for 2012, we noted that cracks in the North's information wall are beginning to appear:

Ruling elites have access to the World Wide Web, but the public is limited to a heavily monitored and censored network with no connections to the outside world. While The Associated Press opened a Pyongyang bureau in January 2012 staffed with North Koreans, the AP wasn't granted its own Internet connection and the correspondents have no secure line of communication. A Japan-based media support group, Asiapress, has been giving North Korean volunteers journalism training and video cameras to record daily life in the North. Downloaded onto DVDs or memory sticks, the images are smuggled across the porous border with China and then sent to Japan for broader distribution.

A lengthy study released on May 11, "A Quiet Opening," by Nat Kretchun, associate director of InterMedia in Washington, and Jane Kim, Korea projects coordinator of the East West Coalition in Beijing, takes a deep look at conditions in the countryside, not just in and around Pyongyang's leadership compounds. They found that at the grassroots level, North Koreans have unprecedented access to external media, via bootlegged foreign TV and radio signals and smuggled foreign DVDs. Add to that smuggled mobile phones and you have an increasingly dynamic media mix that has become irreversible. Yes, the report says, North Korea remains incredibly isolated, but, "despite the incredibly low starting point, important changes in the information environment in North Korean society are underway," it says.

A personal note: With a growing stream of asylum seekers in South Korea and economic immigrants flowing into China, there is a steadily growing amount of reporting on North Korea. One of my favorites is a 2009 book by Barbara Demick, a former Los Angeles Times reporter who was based in Seoul, called "Nothing to Envy --- Ordinary lives in North Korea." It tapped those sorts of sources to paint a very different picture of North Korea than the one that usually makes it into print.


Your latest rankings are, too be quite frank a joke. To "relegate" Eritrea as the most censored country in the world even after North Korea, you are either completely ignorant about the country you are supposedly supposed to be investigating/reporting on or you are motivated by politics. It's incredibly absurd that a country that is completely closed off from the rest of the world, where it's citizenry have no access to the internet, no access to internationsl satelite, international papers, newsites, tv, movies, or even DVD's/VCR's could be second last simply by virtue of giving very limited access to international journalist. By comparison, if you guys had done the slightest due diligence you would have learned that Eritreans have unfettered access to the internet, mass acceess to international satelites, with complete freedom to which al jezzera, BBC, CNN etc. Eritreans can visit the many internet cafes in the various Eritrean cities like Asmara where they can access numerous websites including the many (western based) "opposition websites" for the equivalent of $1.50 per half hour. Likewise tens of thousands of diaspora Eritreans visit Eritrea every year make any notion that this "country is closed off from the rest of the world" laughable. Even Eritrean Television shows daily streams of western movies, programs and news information. Furthermore, whatever the reason for the departure of the "last western resident correspondent"...any journalist can visit Eritrea without any issues. It's unfortunate that you hide behind your journalistic "credentials" and freedom of the press to print such libelous statements without any accountability. Under such circumstances, it's no wonder that the Eritrean government/people are so distrustful of the west; you can't even be honest and get the facts straight.

Oh...and by the could easily do "investigating" and simply google Eritrea in the news section and find that the Eritrean president *gasp* just conducted another interview with various western much for your claims of no journalists being able to go to Eritrea and ask critical questions etc..

So the question that stands before you is: Are you going to maintain some degree of credibility and honesty and do an about face or are you going to be as "stubborn" as all the "authoritarian regimes" you decry and refuse to admit your wrongs and insist that you were right all along and will continue to be right forever.

"Eritrea", CPJ ranking of Eritrea anot just "joke" but also a politically-motivated EVIL & IGNORANT act. Eritrea's one-time event more than a decade of shutting down compromised private press indefintely, but keeping everything else including the kitchen sink OPEN does not warrant Eritrea to a #1 ranking.

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