Information continues to filter out of North Korea about the human rights situation there. Several thousand North Korean refugees manage to reach the South every year, and news media based abroad are establishing more and more contacts inside the country. North Korea is no longer as sealed off from the outside world as it used to be.
Reporters Without Borders visited the South Korean capital of Seoul in July to evaluate the level of media freedom and freedom of information in North Korea. It met with many specialists, human rights activists, North Korean refugees and South Korean officials in order to assess the changes that have taken place since October 2004, the date of its last investigation.
Foreign radio stations continue to be the main source of independent information for the North Korean population. Broadcasting two or three hours a day in Korean on the short-wave, they are listened to by people who have managed to obtain short-wave radio sets. The flow of information is also reinforced by NGOs that send material and multimedia content across the border by various methods.
The authorities seem incapable of stopping the growing smuggling and contraband trade, especially in the estimated 300 markets throughout the country and near the Chinese border, or the flow of information via mobile phones and contraband DVDs, USB flash drives and other digital media whose availability is growing rapidly.
Seven years after its first report entitled “Journalists in the service of a totalitarian dictatorship,” which described the regime’s “permanent information plan,” Reporters Without Borders has found that the government media have evolved little and continue to act as Kim Jong-il’s propaganda outlets.
The regime is currently paving the way for Kim Jong-un to succeed his father and next year’s centenary of Kim Jong-il’s father, Eternal President Kim Il-sung, will probably be a key step in this process.
Since 2009, Reporters Without Borders has been supporting Seoul-based radio stations operated by North Korean refugees such as Free North Korea Radio, Radio Free Chosun and Open Radio for North Korea.
It urges the South Korean government to support the activities of these radio stations, which are crucial, and to get the international community to support them too. These exile radio stations are now the main guarantors of North Koreans’ right to diverse news and information.