Points: 97 // Status: Not Free

199 - North Korea

The North Korean media have continued their propaganda efforts to consolidate national unity around Kim Jong-un. State-owned outlets dominate the media landscape.

They include the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA); Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party; the party’s Korean Central TV; and, on the radio, the Korean Central Broadcasting Station. In a recent opening for Western media, North Korea agreed to allow the Associated Press (AP) to establish its first full-time and all-format news bureau in the country, which allowed its photographers and journalists to work in the country on a regular basis, albeit under heavy restrictions.


There are no accurate statistics measuring the rate of internet penetration in the country. However, the online presence of North Korean official media has increased in recent years. North Korea maintains YouTube and Twitter accounts under the name Uriminzokkiri (Our Nation). Global internet access is still restricted to a handful of high-level officials who have received state approval, though increasing numbers of academic scientists and students are also permitted limited internet access. Ordinary citizens are granted access only to a national intranet that does not link to foreign sites. As personal computers are highly uncommon in homes, most access occurs via terminals in libraries or offices. However, the use of USB flash drives smuggled from China has improved the flow of outside information into North Korea.

The one-party regime owns all domestic news outlets, attempts to regulate all communication, and rigorously limits the ability of the North Korean people to access outside information. Although the constitution theoretically guarantees freedom of speech, provisions calling for adherence to a “collective spirit” restrict in practice all reporting that is not sanctioned by the government. All domestic journalists are members of the ruling party, and all media outlets serve as mouthpieces for the regime. 


In 2007, a Japanese journalist and several North Korean refugees launched Rimjingang, the first newsmagazine to be based on independent reporting from inside the country. The reporting is conducted by specially trained North Koreans—most of them refugees along the border with China—who have agreed to go back into the country and operate as undercover journalists using hidden cameras.



A number of other news outlets based outside the country, including Daily NK, also provide reporting about North Korea and rely to some extent on sources based inside the country. Although reports from these outlets are easily accessible for people outside North Korea, within the country most citizens still rely primarily on state-owned broadcasting agencies for news.