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The non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists released its annual report of the 10 most censored countries. North Korea ranked second. As in many other totalitarian governments, the Kim regime uses tactics like an almost absolute state media monopoly, threats of imprisonment of journalists, as well as restricting foreign journalists’ entry into and movements within the country. However, North Korea’s rampant drive to censor does not end with just professional journalists. The nation’s own citizens are also subject to campaigns of spying and harassment if they are believed to be dissidents of any degree.
North Korea also maintains a ban against viewing foreign films. In the last year, Chinese films which used to play weekly on state-controlled television have disappeared. Now, any citizen caught viewing Chinese films is likely to get sent to a labor camp. The regime is apparently cracking down on the viewing of Chinese movies because it is displeased that China is putting pressure on North Korea to abandon their nuclear weapons program. By banning Chinese media, the Kim regime also eliminates one of the last options many North Koreans have to receive news that is not directly from a regime controlled news source.
However, a new device is making it much easier for some citizens to circumvent the nation’s rampant censorship. Up to half of urban households have a notel. The illegal portable, media player is easy to hide from authorities.. People use the machines to watch DVDs or content stored on USB sticks that can be easily smuggled into the country and passed between people. The most popular content includes South Korean soap operas, pop music, news programs, and Hollywood films according to North Korean defectors, activists, and visitors to the extremely isolated nation. Notels are “ small enough to roll up in a blanket and hide in a wardrobe. They have become so popular because they are perfect for overcoming the twin barriers to foreign media consumption: surveillance and power outages,” said Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an organization that works with escapees. Park added that new technologies such as this my contribute to the authoritarian regime’s downfall.
Earlier this year, Kim Jung un’s uncle was removed from his position in the government and executed. Before his death, his nephew embarked on a state media based smear campaign. The young ruler labelled his former mentor as a person engaging in, “irregularities and corruption.” He further accused his uncle of abusing drugs and wasting money in casinos while undergoing medical treatment abroad. Lastly, according to Kim, Jang Song Thaek had “improper relations with several women and was wined and dined at back parlors of deluxe restaurants.” No one dared contradict Kim for fear they might end up a part of his latest removal strategy. No sources can be found to independently confirm these allegations. Outside sources suspect that Kim invented them, as a quick means to achieving his ultimate goal. Many outside North Korea speculate that Kim wants to stuff the government with people his own age who are easier to control.
The smear campaign Kim Jung-un may have perpetrated against a member of his own family is not so different from a 2004 case in which the nation twisted the words written in the Diary of Anne Frank so that schoolchildren believed that America was the equivalent of the World War II Nazi regime. Furthermore, students were encouraged to rebuke Frank for not fighting the Nazi’s directly and electing to hide in the attic where she was eventually discovered along with her family and others.Some of Frank’s surviving relatives are immensely upset at this misuse of Anne Frank’s words by the North Korean educational system.
However, her cousin notes, “The book is so full of the love of freedom I hope and believe that the North Koreans will get its real message despite the way that they are being trained and rehearsed in what to say.” Given that over a decade has passed since this international incident and North Korea is still rampant with censorship, or at the very least media manipulation, and total authoritarian rule, it does not appear to have been the case.
By Martina Robinson
Committee to Protect Journalists-10. Most Censored Countries
Radio Free Asia-North Koreans Prohibited From Watching Foreign Movies
Stuff.co.nz- $60 Notel device helps North Koreans subvert laws around movies and TV shows
The Independent- North Korea confirms removal of Kim Jong-un’s ‘depraved’ uncle Jang Song Thaek
The Telegraph- N Korea twists Diary of Anne Frank to attack US as ‘Nazis’
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