A case study of control in information in North Korea (part one)

North Korean citizens are completely isolated from the outside world; nevertheless, they are exposed to an increasing influx of external information since the 90’s. It was due to a decreasing economic situation which forced North Korean citizens to travel inside and outside of the country for economical purposes. In the same time opportunities for citizens to access to foreign and internal information highly increased.

These opportunities also increased with the apparition of modern devices in North Korea such as CDs and USB drives and other inexpensive devices. According to Kim Jin-moo, a senior research fellow from the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, the inflow of information is disseminated in North Korea through two sources: first, information from South Korea governmental and non-governmental organizations, secondly from sources presents in China particularly from the border between North Korea and China[1].

Since the uprisings which happened in North Africa and in the Middle East, a lot of analysts wondered how far these changes may affect other regions[2]. As the South Korean specialist Tony Chang said, the chances for an inner combustion in North Korea are rather unlikely[3]. He argued that the North’s domestic policy of fear ban these kind of uprisings. North Korean authorities, although not informing the population, are carefully watching at events in North Africa and Middle East. They are tightening the flow of information through their main political and military structures.

North Korea has a very powerful Propaganda Organ (the so-called Propaganda and Organization Department of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers Party) in terms of power but also regarding its information tools. This Department is the most important department in the North Korean political system. This entity monitors publications which are delivered within different formats (newspapers such as Rodong Sinmun –로동신문, Korean Central News Agency –조선중앙통신, …) and therefore control the inflow and outflow of information in North Korea and which target is the North Korean population.

First overall I will define the notion of information in North Korea, then I will discuss the issue of culture in North Korea (I will try to give some elements of answers to the following subjects: what does it refer to? which subjects are considered as relevant within the North Korean culture?) within my presentation.

Besides based on some concrete examples related to the North Korean history (suppression of pictures of North Korean leaders (such as Jang Sung-thaek), modification of the history of North Korea (regarding the Korean War), lies regarding the biography of North Korean leaders (biography of Kim Il-sung,…)…), I will demonstrate that the North Korean organs that I previously mentioned which are managing issues related to information, are tracking and keeping information in compliance with former Stalinist standards.

The Key North Koreans structures focused on the control of information

The institutions which play the most important role in controlling the inflow of information in North Korea are connected to the Workers’s Party of Korea (WPK). Three offices are particularly important: the Organization and Guidance Department, the Administration Department and the Propaganda and Agitation Department.

The most important organization within the WPK is the Organization and Guidance Department. This section of the WPK is responsible for guiding the Party life and the internal policy of North Korea.  This department consists of three sub-departments which deal with Party issues. The first one deals with Party issues, the second one with military matters and the third one with Party headquarters. The second section of the Organization and Guidance Department is responsible for the removing of the military assets of the KPA toward some WPK structures. Regarding the Administration department, this organization was managed by the deceased Jang Sung-thaek, the uncle of Kim Jong-eun, since 2007 till his probaby death in December 2013. The administration ministry is responsible for the appointment of new leaders and for the development of cities. The Propaganda and Agitation Department is an organ tasked with ideological matters. This is the guardian of the North Korean system in terms of stability. This entity is managed by Kim Ki-nam and Choe Ik-kyu, advisors of the Kim family.

According to Professor Kil Hwa-sik, a former Professor at the National Intelligence of Seoul other organizations connected to the previous ones mentioned are also utilized in the control of information[4]. These are the People’s Security Ministry (the North Korean police) which is charge of the Police and the State Security Ministry which is the North Korean secret police. The raise of the State Security Ministry was connected to the deceased Jang Sung-thaek who under the control of the Administrative Department of the Korean Workers’ Party which controls the State Security Ministry. The State Security Ministry is especially involved in the control of the inflow of information from South Korea[5].

These organizations are dispatching their people not only in public administrations and in the Party but also in enterprises and in education institutions[6]. Regarding rural zones, the control is realized by the Korean People’s Army Safeguard Command which is monitoring the ideological behavior of the North Korean population. The role of these organizations is crucial at a time where the North Korean economic situation is bad and when North Koreans have a deeper access to foreign information.

Outside influences in North Korea

According to Lee Kwang-ho, North Koreans face punishments for listening to foreign broadcasts (Korean, Chinese and others…) and possessing foreign unauthorized publications. According to international groups, North Korea is the most repressive media environment all around the world. In 2011, more than 1,000 people were arrested for being in contact with foreign media[7]. As a result, many North Korean defectors are fleeing their country after noticing that South Korea is wealthier than North Korea. These information were obtained after having watched South Korean and Chinese media[8].

The control of information aims also to ban some key international events. North Korean newspapers didn’t mention any kind of information regarding populist uprisings which take place in the Arab world since 2010. It’s also worth to note that North Korean authorities also banned its citizens who were living in this region from getting home in order to avoid any kind of outflow of information. North Korean media didn’t any kind of information related to the death of Muammar Kaddafi, the former leader of Libya. In Arab countries, the information flow is less controlled than in North Korea and it led to uprisings we previously discussed. For example in Tunisia, the government’s corruption was divulgated through the online website of Wikileaks. According to Dong Yong-seung, a senior researcher at the Samsung Economic Research Institute, the collective revolt in Egypt and Tunisia was also organized through Internet[9]. North Korean authorities are conscious of the power of Internet. It’s interesting to note that recently housing prices have increased skyrocketed in a of Pyongyang where the foreign embassies are located as North Koreans are trying to get an access to the embassies Wi-fi. Some of the embassies even allow North Korean citizens access their Wi-Fi[10].

Therefore, North Korean authorities are also monitoring contacts between foreigners established in North Korea and its citizens. Foreigners who are living in North Korea are never discussing the previous mentioned issues with North Korean citizens. On the 14th October 2011, North Korea also asked South Korea to stop broadcasting Inter-Korean affairs[11] on Internet considering it also as a “psychological warfare”[12].

The Kim regime is also controlling information which is related to the top leadership of North Korea, banning any outflow of information related to the private life of the top leadership. As an example of harsh punition for being in touch with the top North Korean leadership, we may quote Kim Young-soon, a former North Korean dancer who was moved to jail for knowing some secrets of the Kim family. She was especially informed about the relation between the former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and Sung Hye-rim, an actress who secretly became the mistress of Kim Jong-il in the late 60’s. She gave birth to Kim Jong-nam, who is currently living between Asia and Europe. Due to the secretive nature of the relation between Sung Hye-rim and Kim Jong-il and to the fact that Kim Young-soon divulgated some information, she was sent to the political camp of Yodok where she approximately spent 9 years between 1971 and 1980. She finally escaped to South Korea in 2003. She wrote a book “I was Sung Hye-rim’s friend” and lives now in South Korea where she works as a dance instructor.

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[1] Kim Jin-moo, The Dissemination of External Information in N. Korea and its Social Impacts in The North, , Vantage Point, Vol. 35 nr 7, July 2012, p. 19.

[2] Fareed Zakaria, Will the North Koreans rise up?, “CNN.com”, 14th November 2011; Sunny Lee, Will the North Koreans rise up?, “Asia Times”, 12th February 2011.

[3] Tony Chang, Could “SNS Revolution” Kindle in North Korea, Vantage Point, Vol. 34 nr 12, March 2011, p. 16.

[4] Kil Hwa-sik, A Study on Social Control in North Korea During the Kim Jong-il Era, Vantage Point, august 2011, vol. 34 nr 8, p. 46.

[5] Ahn Chan-il, Raised Status of State Security Ministry & Its Operations, Vantage Point, november 2012, vol. 35 nr 11, p. 18.

[6] Kil Hwa-sik, A Study on Social Control in North Korea During the Kim Jong-il Era, Vantage Point, august 2011, vol. 34 nr 8, p. 47.

[7] Lee Kwang-ho, Desperate efforts to bar influx of outside influences, Vantage Point, Vol. 34 nr 12, December 2011, p. 28.

[8] Lee Kwang-ho, Desperate efforts to bar influx of outside influences, Vantage Point, Vol. 34 nr 12, December 2011, p. 29.

[9] Tony Chang, Could “SNS Revolution” Kindle in North Korea, Vantage Point, Vol. 34 nr 12, March 2011, p. 16.

[10] Kang Tae-jun, Wi-fi access Sparks Housing Boom in Pyongyang, “The Diplomat”, 14th August 2014.

[11] Lee Kwang-ho, Desperate efforts to bar influx of outside influences, Vantage Point, Vol. 34 nr 12, December 2011, p. 30.

[12] Tony Chang, Could “SNS Revolution” Kindle in North Korea, Vantage Point, Vol. 34 nr 12, March 2011, p. 18.

 

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