In 2022, the Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters Without Borders downgraded the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) from the second worst country to the most restrictive country on earth, surpassing Eritrea. It is well acknowledged that concepts such as democracy, freedom of expression, and rule of law are not enforced within the political system of the so-called ‘hermit kingdom’. With regards to the freedom of expression, the regime has been heavily restricting information flow, both in and out of the DPRK, making the work of journalists (domestic and foreign), NGOs and scholars particularly challenging, in that finding unbiased information about internal affairs require methods that differ from most countries.
It must be emphasized that the lack of freedom of expression in the DPRK does not limit itself to the monopoly of State-owned and controlled news media, but is also enmeshed within each stage of the life of a typical North Korean, whether through the education system, the military, or in the work and social life conceived to erase every sign of the capacity of critical thinking among the population. This has ultimately allowed the authoritarian Kim regime to maintain its power over the country for more than 70 years, despite deep economic crises and famines such as the ‘March of Suffering’ in the 1990s.
The 21st century has seen the rapid improvement and proliferation of digital technologies around the world. In this context, the North Korean regime had to choose between maintaining complete control over its population or to advance economically, which would imply greater access to digital technology and media for North Koreans in order to facilitate the modernization of the country. However, such improvements have not been observed. In fact, North Koreans’ access has mainly been limited to state intranet networks (e.g. Kwangmyung), unreachable from outside North Korea and whose domestic access can theoretically only be granted by the central government by an application process. This network allows access to domestic news, a search engine and email services that are intensely surveilled and controlled by the government.
While access to the state intranet is already made difficult, the internet undergoes even more restrictions. Full internet access is only granted to the ‘hyper elite’, composed of a dozen or more families close to the central power. Indeed, as reported by a North Korean defector interviewed by PSCORE ‘’even the high ranked positions cannot use it. It is only set to work in designated areas and for designated people’’.
This call for submission is made to bring increased awareness to the case study of North Korea. At PSCORE, we are convinced that the North Korean case study requires more international recognition and attention. Compiling together primary and secondary sources of information, this call for submission answers the provided questions with regard to the North Korean case study. We have focused on questions we feel relate to this case and concluded by making recommendations.
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