Press Freedom Status: Not Free
Total Score: 98/100 (↓1) (0 = Most Free, 100 = Least Free)
Legal Environment: 30/30
Political Environment: 39/40 (↓1)
Economic Environment: 29/30

Quick Facts

Population: 25,100,000
Freedom in the World Status: Not Free

Key Developments in 2016:

  • In May, North Korea expelled a reporter, cameraperson, and producer with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), accusing them of filing reports critical of the regime.

  • In September, Agence France-Presse (AFP) opened a bureau in Pyongyang, joining just a few other foreign outlets that have a permanent presence in the country.

Executive Summary

North Korea has one of the most repressive media environments in the world. All domestic media outlets are state controlled and closely monitored, and produce propaganda with the aim of ensuring absolute loyalty to Kim Jong-un, who assumed the country's leadership after the death of his father and predecessor, Kim Jong-il, in 2011. Reports suggest that the political environment in North Korea became more repressive in 2016, as Kim increased state oppression amid the continued deterioration of the economy.

Access to foreign and independent media is tightly restricted, and those found consuming unauthorized news content face severe punishment. A handful of journalists working underground intermittently produce independent news reports, but these are generally unavailable within North Korea, and are consumed by audiences abroad.

Despite restrictions on media, in recent years there has been an increase in the flow of news and information into the country. Foreign radio stations and organizations produce news broadcasts from across the border that can be heard in North Korea. Smuggled foreign DVDs have also become an important source of information about life outside North Korea. However, according to North Korean defectors, Kim has intensified efforts to curb the inflow of outside information, including by tightening security along the country's borders. Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat who defected in August 2016, said during a news conference that the regime closely monitors diplomats who returned to the country from abroad in order to prevent them from spreading outside news.

Access to the country by foreign journalists is limited. However, the regime does on occasion invite foreign journalists to cover events that shed a favorable light on the state; they are assigned North Korean minders, who accompany them on state-planned itineraries. In May 2016, authorities expelled a team of three BBC journalists who were covering a research trip to the country by a group of Nobel laureates; officials reportedly objected to their coverage of life in Pyongyang, and of the country more generally. However, in September, AFP opened a North Korean bureau, joining just a few other foreign news organizations with a permanent presence in the country. These include the Associated Press (AP), Russia's RIA Novosti, Japan's Kyodo news agency, and China's Xinhua news agency.

Explanatory Note

This country report has been abridged for Freedom of the Press 2017. For background information on press freedom in North Korea, see Freedom of the Press 2016.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.