Determining what to believe and who to trust is tough. In the USA, our “free press” is driven by profit, what gets eyes gets advertising dollars. The choice of what makes the news and what doesn’t isn’t always based on noble ideas of what the “public needs to know”, the choice is based on marketability as much as newsworthiness. The media is not black and white, the truth is sometimes hidden or sensationalized. It is to the point that the news and media we choose determines our view of right, wrong and what’s going on.
Will you find out what you should believe in from books? Not in North Korea, they are all written by Kim Jong Il or Kim Il Sung.
If you are a citizen of North Korea these issues are not only black and white they are decided for you. You only see one side of the story and you don’t have to subscribe to several different news sources to stay up on the diversity of public opinions. The press and pop culture, if you can even call it that, all present the same information.
Used in one way, the press, the radio and the cinema are indispensable to the survival of democracy. Used in another way, they are among the most powerful weapons in the dictator’s armory.
– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited
While some subscribe to the belief that all press is good press, the Kim family isn’t willing to take that risk. The “Dear Leader” first approves every movie, newspaper, magazine, periodical and book before they reach their intended audience. The newspapers are filled with articles celebrating the triumphs of Kim Jong Il no matter how small and every book I saw in the country was written by him or his father the “Eternal Leader” Kim Il Sung.
Reviewing every form of media before it reaches the public is simply “guiding the creative process”
From the moment we boarded our flight to North Korea we were bombarded with propaganda. The very first newspaper I read from the DPRK featured a lengthy article accompanied with pictures about the South Koreans discontent. Another article in the same paper included a detailed account of Kim Jong Il’s recent visit to a factory. It was the type of trivial event that would no doubt be left out of any upstanding newspaper at home.
Once on the ground every street corner featured a billboard sized propaganda poster and every building was plastered with life-size murals of obedient North Koreans and their Eternal Leader or Dear Leader. It was clear that propaganda and the press were being used as powerful weapon in an all out assault on the citizens of the DPRK.
If you are constantly told that your country is amazing and perfect in every way and that your next ‘best’ option (South Korea) is horrible and oppressed you will soon be converted. Radio and TV sets in North Korea are pre-tuned to government stations that pump out a steady stream of propaganda. The state has been dubbed the world’s worst violator of press freedom by the media rights body Reporters Without Borders. North Korea’s economic hardships or famines are not reported. But North Koreans are told the more you help the country improve the better it will be. If you just work harder there won’t be mass famine and rolling blackouts. Seems pretty simple, but it only works if you control all the information your constituents receive.
North Korea is literally cut off from the world, and the Internet is no exception. The World Wide Web is only accessible to a small minority: a few of the regime’s senior officials and some foreign diplomats, assured only via a satellite link to foreign-based servers. I’m not even convinced that your average citizen understands what the internet is. When I arrived in Pyongyang and my backpack was searched they came across our laptop and asked if it was capable of connecting to the internet. As I had been told to say, I replied ‘no’, to which they said okay and I was on my way despite the fact that every computer produced in the last 10 years can connect to the internet.
Of course there is no internet to be found in North Korea, which made for a “more authentic” experience. Cut off from the outside world we operated in the same news vacuum as local residents. It gave me time to ponder, what should we really believe? In the last generation, the US media has consolidated into six major news distributing groups that control everything that reaches you from CNN to ESPN. The U.S. media is arguably selling just as much propaganda as North Korea, but at least in the DPRK they aren’t hiding their motives.