Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 30 (of 30)
Political Environment: 39 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 29 (of 30)
Total Score: 98 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Covers events that took place between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2008.

  • North Korea remained the most repressive media environment in the world in 2008. The one-party regime owns all media, attempts to regulate all communication, and rigorously limits the ability of North Koreans to access information.

  • Although the constitution theoretically guarantees freedom of speech, constitutional provisions calling for adherence to a "collective spirit" restrict all reporting that is not sanctioned by the government in practice.

  • All journalists are members of the ruling party, and all media are mouthpieces for the regime. Under the penal code, listening to foreign broadcasts and possessing dissident publications are "crimes against the state" that carry grave punishments, including hard labor, prison sentences, and the death penalty.

  • North Korean media portray all dissidents and the foreign media as liars attempting to destabilize the government, and authorities sharply curtail the ability of foreign journalists to gather information by seizing their mobile telephones upon arrival, preventing them from talking to people on the street, and constantly monitoring their movements.

  • In December, Reporters Without Borders called on the North Korean government to release information on Colonel Kim Sung Chul, who was arrested in 2006 for secretly filming a public execution and sending the video to a Japanese television station, Asahi TV.

  • In 2007, a Japanese journalist and several North Korean refugees launched the first newsmagazine, Rimjinkang, 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 country's border with China – who have agreed to go back into North Korea and operate as undercover journalists using hidden cameras. The newsmagazine began publishing a Japanese version in 2008 with hopes that wider dissemination would help to force change within the North Korean regime.

  • Internet access is restricted to a handful of high-level officials who have received state approval, and to 200 or so foreigners living in the capital, Pyongyang; all foreign websites are blocked by the state.

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