Article 53 of the North Korean Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and thus freedom of the press in North Korea.
Because of this constitutionally enshrined freedom North Koreans and its media have absolute freedom to say anything positive about the Leaders, the Worker’s Party and the country in general. In fact they are strongly encouraged (required) to do so.
Freedom of speech / of the press in no country permits people to say or print what they like. Most of us are not permitted to abuse others through racial vilification, slander, defamation, etc, etc.
In North Korea this restriction on absolute freedom is interpreted as not being permitted to say anything negative about the Leaders, the Worker’s Party or the country generally.
Consequentially, the North Korean media is one of, if not the most, strictly controlled in the world. While the government may not directly run every media outlet in the country their only source of information is the State run, Korean Central News Agency. Given this, all media outlets serve as mouthpieces for the regime and all are certainly monitored.
Members of the press must be ideologically sound and approved, as must their families. It is extremely difficult for foreign media to gain access to the country and when they do they are escorted by especially trained guides and minders. Tour companies who bring in journalists as ‘tourists’ are subject to severe penalties –including loosing their license to operate in North Korea.
We came into contact with the press on one occasion, in the Kim Il-sung Stadium on the occasion of the Pyongyang Marathon, but what we saw is reflective of what I have seen in other televised events. The press officials all dress in the same grey outfits, carry rather dated equipment and, it would appear, come equipped with a personal step ladder.
The gentleman on the left in picture below looks like an interloper of some sort – possibly a rare example of an official foreign journalist as there were a few at the Marathon.
Watching television, especially the news, is an event not to be missed in North Korea and I have written a separate review on this, rather plainly entitled – Watch TV – in North Korea. I have links to a couple of great, not to be missed, videos there.
In terms of newspapers there are a number of Korean language papers available in addition to one weekly English language paper – the Pyongyang Times.
Local papers, in addition to presumably being on sale somewhere, are displayed in public places such that the people can have ready and free access to the ‘news’. What a shame it would be if the masses somehow were not fully aware of the heroic exploits of their leaders and their latest revolutionary thinking or were unable to read about the latest on-the-spot guidance delivered!
You will almost certainly find a copy of the Pyongyang Times in your seat pocket as you fly into the country. Don’t forget to retain it as a souvenir. In the event that you do not get one from the plane or that you want some back issues they are readily available to buy in the Foreign Language Bookshop and in hotels (especially in Pyongyang).
One thing all papers, Korean and English, seem to have in common is that they have a picture of the current leader on the front page (in addition to numerous more throughout). Given this, it is important that you treat your newspaper with respect. This means, no throwing it in the bin, scrunching it up or folding it in a way that results in a crease across the Leader’s face. Engaging in any of these actions constitutes insulting and disrespecting the Leader, something that comes with a severe penalty for a North Korean. As a tourist take care not to offend your guide by insulting their Leader.
My main photo is of a local newspaper displayed for commuters to read on a platform in the Pyongyang Metro. Hardly a very flattering picture of Kim Jong-un, and yes there is even a crease across his chin – probably breaches a couple of the rules I referred to above.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries providing general and background information on The Rambling Wombat’s trip to, and travelling in, North Korea which I recommend you read in a particular order. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Be an Extra on the World’s Largest Film Set. If necessary, go to my North Korea introduction entry – And now for something completely different – to start this loop at the beginning.