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Media of North Korea

The media of North Korea is amongst the most strictly controlled in the world. The constitution nominally provides for freedom of speech and the press. However, the government prohibits the exercise of these rights in practice, unless it is in praise of the country and its government and leader. The government not only tightly controls all information coming in and out of the country, but seeks to mold information at its source. A typical example of this was the death of Kim Jong-il, news of which was not divulged until two days after it occurred. Kim Jong-un, who replaced his father as leader, has given every indication he will largely follow in his father's footsteps. However, new technologies are being made more freely available in the country. State-run media outlets are setting up websites, while mobile phone ownership in the country has escalated rapidly. “There is no country which monopolizes and controls successfully the internet and information as North Korea does,” said Kang Shin-sam, an expert on North Korean technology and co-head of the International Solidarity for Freedom of Information in North Korea, a nonprofit based in South Korea. North Korea now has about four million mobile-phone subscribers—roughly one-sixth of the population and four times the number in 2012, according to an estimate by Kim Yon-ho, a senior researcher at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. North Korea.[1]

Reporters Without Borders has consistently ranked North Korea at or near the bottom of its yearly Press Freedom Index since it was first issued in 2002. In its 2013–14 report, RWB classified North Korea's media environment as 178th out of 179 countries in the rankings, only above that of Eritrea.[2][3]

The state news agency, the Korean Central News Agency, provides the only source of information for all media outlets in North Korea.[4]


Press freedomEdit

Freedom of the press is tightly controlled by the state. Article 67[5] of the North Korean Constitution protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In practice, however, the press is tightly controlled, and the government only allows speech that supports it and the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.[6] As of 2017, North Korea occupies the last place on Reporters Without Borders' annual Press Freedom Index.[7]

The late Kim Jong-il's book, The Great Teacher of Journalists, advises that "newspapers carry articles in which they unfailingly hold the president in high esteem, adore him and praise him as the great revolutionary leader".[8] Media reports in North Korea are often one-sided and exaggerated, playing "little or no role in gathering and disseminating vital information true to facts" and providing propaganda for the regime.[9]

All North Korean journalists are members of the Workers' Party.[10] Candidates for journalism school must not only prove themselves ideologically clean, but also come from politically reliable families.[11] Journalists who do not follow the strict laws face punishment in the form of hard labour or imprisonment, even for the smallest typing errors.[10][12] Only news that favours the regime is permitted, whilst news that covers the economic and political problems in the country, or criticisms of the regime from abroad is not allowed.[13] Domestic media and the population itself are not allowed to carry or read stories by foreign media and can be punished for doing so.[10]

Restrictions are also placed on the foreign journalists that are allowed into the country under supervision, though many are not permitted to enter.[10] All the information gathered by newspapers and magazines is disseminated by the main news agency, KCNA. No private press exists.[13] The media effectively paints the country in a positive light, describing itself "paradise on earth".[14] With this, it encourages the population to adopt the "socialist lifestyle"—on one occasion an intensive media campaign was launched against men with long hair, claiming it reduces intelligence.[15]

Cult of personalityEdit

Media maintains a cult of personality for the Kim family, including Kim Il-sung

The media have consistently upheld the personality cult of the Kim family since the country's formation. It frequently reported on the activities of late leader Kim Jong-il, regularly reporting on his daily activities, frequently including "prayers" to founding leader Kim Il-sung. Previously, media would refer to Kim Jong-il as the "Dear Leader", though this was dropped in 2004.[16] However, in January 1981, during the first few months of Kim Jong-il's entry into politics, a survey revealed economic concerns in the media, rather than upholding the cult—60% to 70% of media coverage was focused on the economy in January that year, and between January and September, 54% of editorials in the Rodong Sinmun also referred to economic problems, with only 20% on politics, 10% on reunification and 4% on foreign affairs.[17] All indications are that this has continued under the country's third and current leader, Kim Jong-un; soon after his father's death he was acclaimed as the "Great Successor".[18]

Approximately 90% of airtime on international news broadcasts in North Korea is propaganda spent describing the publication of works by Kim Jong-il and showing various study groups in foreign countries, in an effort to allegedly mislead the North Korean public as to the outside world's perceptions of the country.[19] When Kim Jong-il visited Russia in August 2001, official DPRK media reported Russians as being "awestruck" by the encounter, revering Kim Jong-il's ability to "stop the rain and make the sun come out".[20]

Domestic and international coverageEdit

The media is used to promote contrasting domestic and international agendas. Kim Il-Sung was said to recognise its power to influence North Koreans and confuse the outside world.[20] Often, news is released to the international community and withheld from the domestic North Korean population, and other news is released domestically but not internationally.[21]

Though some international news coverage is given in DPRK media, much is ignored,[22] is mentioned very briefly,[23] or is announced several days after the event, as was the case with the Ryongchon disaster in 2004.[24][25] Reports are also notoriously secretive. The media remained silent on domestic issues, by not reporting on economic reforms introduced by the government such as increasing wages and food prices,[26] rarely mentioning Kim Jong-il until his first party position in 1980[27] and the launching of missiles.[28] Restrictions on the dissemination of information do not only apply to the civilian population, but to North Korean officials themselves, depending on ranking.[29]

In contrast, the idea of reunification of the two Koreas is a pervasive theme in the North Korean media,[30] as is the near constant "threat" of an "imminent attack" by the foreign countries.[31] In recent years, the media describes in detail satellite launches launched by the country as a sign of the DPRKs "economic prowess."[31] The media rarely reports bad news from the country; however on one rare occasion, the press acknowledged a famine and food shortages in the 1990s.[32]

It has had a role in supporting anti-government demonstrations in South Korea; in the late 1980s it launched a propaganda campaign urging South Koreans to "fight against the 'government' without concessions and compromise", using false claims to portray the demonstrations as fighting for communism, which, rather, were in support of liberal democracy.[33] It continues to support South Korean anti-government groups, quoting relevant societies and unions critical of the government policy[34] and denouncing government "crackdowns", calling for freedom of expression and democracy for South Korean citizens.[35] From January 1 to June 22, 2009, North Korean media was reported to have criticised the South Korean president 1,700 times — an average of 9.9 times daily.[36]

During the Khrushchev era of the Soviet Union when relations were tense, North Korean media would openly reprint articles critical of the USSR, often written by North Korean officials.[37] However, once relations between the DPRK and Soviet Union improved, the articles would no longer appear.[38] In the following years, both North Korean and Russian media would play down sensitive anniversaries.[39]


A public newspaper reading stand in Pyongyang

North Korea has 12 principal newspapers and 20 major periodicals, all published in Pyongyang.[40] Foreign newspapers are not sold on the streets of the capital.[41] Every year, North Korean press jointly publishes a New Year editorial, also broadcast by KCNA, which regularly attracts the attention of the international news media.[42][43][44][45]

Newspapers include:

Several newspaper journalists from North Korea were secretly trained in China to covertly report on events inside North Korea. November 2007 marked the first publication of the Rimjingang magazine, which is distributed secretly in North Korea and in neighbouring countries. The magazine covers the economic and political situation in the country. The journalists have also provided footage of public executions to South Korean and Japanese media.[12]

Television and radioEdit

The television broadcasting is managed by the Central Broadcasting Committee of Korea (until 2009 called Radio and Television Committee of the DPRK). Radio and TV sets in North Korea are supplied pre-tuned to North Korean stations and must be checked and registered with the police, though some North Koreans own Chinese radios which can receive foreign stations.[13] It is prohibited to tune into foreign broadcasts. There are five major television stations: Korean Central TV, Mansudae Television (an educational station[46] only available via Manbang IPTV system),[47] Ryongnamsan TV [ko] (former Korean Educational and Cultural Network [ko]), Kaesong Television (which targets South Korea) and the Sport Television [zh] (since August 15, 2015)[48][49] State television is always off air until its 5:00 pm evening news broadcast, except on weekends, which start at 6:00 am, and in emergency events, live events and national holidays.[50]

North Korean newscasts are known for their showmanship. KCTV's principal newsreader from 1974 to 2012, Ri Chun-hee, was well known for the wavering, exuberant tone she used when praising the nation's leaders and the hateful one she used in denouncing countries seen as hostile to the regime. Some North Korean journalists who have defected to the South have noted the contrasts with the more conversational South Korean broadcasting style.[51]

Open air television in Pyongyang

All broadcast media in some way promotes the regime's ideologies and positions, such as Juche, and regularly condemns actions by South Korea, Japan, China, Israel, the United States, and other nations. The media in recent years condemns the United Nations, and its position against the country's nuclear program. Media is generally without adverts, though some advertisement of local brands occurs on Mansudae Television.[46]

Due to the economic conditions in the country and the short broadcast day, radio is the most widely used medium. In 2006, there were 16 AM, 14 FM and 11 shortwave radio broadcast stations. The main radio stations are Pyongyang FM Station, Voice of Korea, and the Korean Central Broadcasting Station. There is also a black propaganda station called Propaganda Radio – which purports to be broadcasting from South Korea.[52] Some foreign broadcast radio stations that target North Korea are often jammed, though this can vary. The authorities designate such foreign media as "enemies of the regime".[13]

Some particularly politically sensitive material is available only through wired radio connections.[53] The cable radio transmissions are known by North Koreans as the "Third Broadcast".[54]

South Korean television programmes cannot be received in North Korea due to incompatibilities between the television systems (PAL in North Korea and NTSC/ATSC in South Korea) and the sets being pretuned. South Korean soap operas, movies and Western Hollywood movies according to defectors, are said to be spreading at a "rapid rate" throughout North Korea despite the threat of punishment;[55] As of 2011, USB flash drives were selling well in North Korea, primarily used for watching South Korean dramas and films on personal computers.[56]

North Korean broadcasts have been picked up in South Korea,[57] and are monitored by the Unification Ministry in Seoul, which handles cross-border relations and media exchanges.[58]

Defectors are also streaming North Korean television broadcasts on the Internet.[59]

In August 2016, it was reported that North Korea had launched a state-approved video streaming service which has been likened to Netflix.[60] The service, known as Manbang (meaning "everywhere" or "every direction") uses a set-top box to stream live TV, on-demand video and newspaper articles (from the state newspaper Rodong Sinmun) over the internet.[47][61] The state TV channel KCTV described the service as a "respite from radio interference".[62]


Internet access in North Korea is restricted to Internet cafés or hotels designated for foreign tourists in Pyongyang, connected via a satellite link. A few of the government elite with state approval are connected to the internet via a link to China.[63] The general population of North Korea do not have internet access, however the people do have access to Kwangmyong, an intranet set up by the government. North Korea itself has a limited presence on the internet, with several sites on their national .kp domain. The Mosquito Net filtering model used in North Korea attempts to attract foreign investment, while the filter simultaneously blocks foreign ideas.[64]

Video GamesEdit

In September 2019 state-run media announced the release of a motion-based video game system named the Moranbong. The system appears to exhibit similar features to the Nintendo Wii and Playstation Move. The system has two wands similar in appearance to Wii controllers, a motion detector similar in appearance to the Kinect, and a sensor-based mat that detects foot-based input.[65]

Access to foreign mediaEdit

Despite extremely strict regulations and draconian penalties, North Koreans, particularly elite citizens, have increasing access to news and other media outside the state-controlled media authorized by the government. While access to the internet is tightly controlled, radio and DVDs are common media accessed, and in border areas, television.[66][67]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ [1]. Johns Hopkins University.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 4, 2011. Retrieved March 6, 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Reporters Without Borders - 2013-14 World Press Freedom Index report
  3. ^ "DPRK (North Korea) again one from bottom on press freedom ranking" -
  4. ^ Ford; Kwon, 2008, p. 90.
  5. ^ "Chapter V. Fundamental Rights and Duties of Citizens". Archived from the original on October 15, 2009. Article 67. Citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, demonstration and association. The State shall guarantee conditions for the free activity of democratic political parties and social organizations.
  6. ^ Savada (1994)
  7. ^ "North Korea". Reporters Without Borders. 2017. Retrieved 2017-04-28.
  8. ^ Lister, Richard (October 28, 2000). "Life in Pyongyang". BBC News.
  9. ^ Chong (1995), p. 228.
  10. ^ a b c d Freedom House Map of Press Freedom: North Korea, accessed November 30, 2008.
  11. ^ The voice of North Korea. Dec 8, 2009. The World. (Archived June 18, 2013, at the Wayback Machine).
  12. ^ a b Annual Press Freedom Index Archived March 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. Reporters Without Borders.
  13. ^ a b c d Liston-Smith, Ian (October 10, 2006). Meagre media for North Korea. BBC News.
  14. ^ Kim (2008), p. 19.
  15. ^ N Korea wages war on long hair. BBC News. January 8, 2005
  16. ^ North Korean media drop Kim Jong Il's glorifying title. AsiaNews / AP. November 18, 2004
  17. ^ Shinn (1982).
  18. ^ Alastair Gale (18 December 2011). "Kim Jong Il Has Died". The Wall Street Journal Asia. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  19. ^ Hunter (1999), p. 22.
  20. ^ a b Quick (2003), p. 687.
  21. ^ Oh; Hassig (2000), p. xv.
  22. ^ "North Korean media remains silent on US attacks". Yonhap. September 12, 2001
  23. ^ U.S. in great panic Archived 2008-12-11 at the Wayback Machine. Korean Central News Agency. September 12, 2001
  24. ^ Mysteries surround N Korea blast. Taipei Times. April 30, 2004
  25. ^ Bloomfield, Steve (April 25, 2004). How news broke in Pyongyang - silently. The Independent.
  26. ^ North Korean media silent on economic reforms. Asia Africa Intelligence Wire. August 8, 2002.
  27. ^ Clippinger (1981).
  28. ^ N Korea missiles could strike South. The Times (South Africa). July 6, 2009.
  29. ^ Hassig et al. (2004).
  30. ^ Hodge (2003).
  31. ^ a b Pinkston (2003).
  32. ^ Goodkind; West (2001).
  33. ^ North Korean media incite demonstrators in South Korea. Manila Standard. July 28, 1987.
  34. ^ Struggle for Punishment of Lee Myung Bak "Government" Launched in S. Korea. Korean Central News Agency. July 1, 2009.
  35. ^ Campaign for Second Declaration on Situation Launched in S. Korea. Korean Central News Agency. July 5, 2009.
  36. ^ N. Korea scorned S. Korean president 1,700 times this year: official. Yonhap. July 5, 2009
  37. ^ Zhebin (1995).
  38. ^ Kun (1967).
  39. ^ Zagoria (1977).
  40. ^ Pervis (2007), p. 22.
  41. ^ a b Marshall Cavendish Corporation; Macdonald; Stacey; Steele (2004), p. 341.
  42. ^ Oh; Hassig (2000), p. 90.
  43. ^ "Chinese agency reports on North Korean New Year editorial." Asia Africa Intelligence Wire. January 1, 2004
  44. ^ North Korea urges unity behind Kim. Al Jazeera. January 1, 2009
  45. ^ North Korea message is mild on US. BBC News Online. January 1, 2009
  46. ^ a b Andray Abrahamian (17 June 2016). "Rise in advertising as North Korea embraces nascent consumerism". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  47. ^ a b Williams, Martyn (22 February 2019). "Manbang IPTV Service in Depth". 38 North. The Henry L. Stimson Center. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  48. ^ 朝鲜终于有了体育台
  49. ^ Sung, Jeong Jae (January 7, 2010). "Revamp of North Korean Broadcasting System Revealed". Daily NK.
  50. ^ Foster, Peter (April 9, 2009). North Korea: Kim Jong-il celebrates re-election as diplomatic deadlock drags. The Daily Telegraph.
  51. ^ The Voice of North Korea. The World, 2009-12-08.
  52. ^ Kwang-im, Kim (August 8, 2001). NK Actively Reporting on Media Reform in South. The Chosun Ilbo.
  53. ^ "North Korea's tightly controlled media". BBC News. 19 December 2011.
  54. ^ Park In Ho (2008-02-28). "North Korea Criticizes the US during the New York Philharmonic Performance". Daily NK.
  55. ^ North Korea: 80 executed for 'watching illegal television programmes' The Times, 13 November 2013, Internet copy retrieved with subscription 13 December 2013
  56. ^ "North Korea's Nascent Consumerism". Asia Sentinel. 19 March 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
  57. ^ North Korea TV viewed in South Korea. YouTube.
  58. ^ Unification Ministry forbids North-South news article exchanges. The Hankyoreh. February 5, 2009.
  59. ^ Launching Balloons into North Korea: Propaganda Over Pyongyang (Video). VICE News. 17 March 2015. Event occurs at 18:00. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
  60. ^ "Netflix style video-on-demand comes to North Korea, state TV hows | NK News - North Korea News". 2016-08-18. Retrieved 2016-08-21.
  61. ^ Nunez, Michael. "North Korea's Netflix Knockoff Will Stream On-Demand Propaganda". Retrieved 2016-08-21.
  62. ^ "North Korea's 'Manbang' is a state-approved streaming service". Engadget. Retrieved 2016-08-21.
  63. ^ Zeller, Jr., Tom (October 23, 2006). Link by Link; The Internet Black Hole That Is North Korea. The New York Times.
  64. ^ Resistance, Liberation Technology and Human Rights in the Digital Age, Giovanni Ziccardi, Springer Netherlands, 2013 p. 301, ISBN 978-94-007-5275-7
  65. ^ "Moranbong motion-based video games system".
  66. ^ "Illicit access to foreign media is changing North Koreans' worldview, study says". The Washington Post. Associated Press. May 10, 2012. Retrieved May 10, 2012.
  67. ^ Nat Kretchun, Jane Kim (May 10, 2012). "A Quiet Opening: North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment" (PDF). InterMedia. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 12, 2012. Retrieved May 10, 2012. The primary focus of the study was on the ability of North Koreans to access outside information from foreign sources through a variety of media, communication technologies and personal sources. The relationship between information exposure on North Koreans' perceptions of the outside world and their own country was also analyzed.


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External linksEdit

News agency


North Korean online media aimed at foreign audience

Foreign media targeted at North Korea