Posts tagged Reporters Without Borders
Three of North Korea’s state security and censorship organizations have been called out by Reporters Without Borders in the organization’s latest ranking of “Enemies of the Internet.”
The report was published on Wednesday, which RSF and Amnesty International have named world day against cyber censorship.
The three organizations named by RSF are the Central Scientific and Technological Information Agency, which runs the domestic intranet system, Group 109, which attempts to police distribution of illegal foreign content, and Bureau 27, which monitors cell phones and radio broadcasts.
RSF calls Group 109 “censorship’s elite force” and draws on testimony provided to the United Nations that claims the group “regularly herds people into stadiums where they are made to observe those caught red-handed who are then sent to prison camps to deter others from obtaining illegal content.” More >
The report, published on Wednesday, put North Korea at position 179.
During 2013, the country was singled out for particular criticism by the group for media coverage of the arrest, trial and execution of Jang Song Thaek.
State media went into overdrive during the event, describing Jang’s alleged crimes in detail and denouncing him for them. More >
North Korean state media’s coverage of the arrest, trial and subsequent execution of Jang Song Thaek was “tantamount to mass intimidation,” Reporters Without Borders said on Thursday.
“Although only to be expected from one of the world’s worst dictatorships, such manipulation of news and information is disturbing,” the Paris-based group said in a statement.
“The extensive and indeed staged coverage of this execution coinciding with the hyped coverage of the second anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s death had the hallmarks of a intimidatory message to the entire Korean population and the international community.”
One of the things that made Jang’s arrest notable was the way it was done in public. State TV, radio and newspapers devoted a considerable amount of time to denouncing him for what were at the time accused crimes. Later in the week, the media carried news of his trial, his apparent admission of guilt and his execution.
That was followed by an information purge that has seen thousands of articles removed from the websites of the state-run Korean Central News Agency and party-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper.
“This propaganda has highlighted the harshness of a regime that has not hesitated to execute one of the party’s most senior officials, a four-star general and uncle of the currently leader. Such an atmosphere of terror will weigh heavily on the little freedom of information remaining in such a closely-watched society,” Reporters without Borders said.
North Korea ranks at position 178 on the group’s press freedom index – one place from the bottom. The only nation ranked below the DPRK was Eritrea.
Google has posted video of Eric Schmidt’s remarks at the recent “Big Tent” event in Washington, D.C.
The Google-organized events act as idea summits and have been running for about three years and the D.C. event took place on April 26.
During his speech, the chairman of Google talked about North Korea and the impact that the connected world, and the Internet in particular, would have on authoritarian countries.
“In North Korea we visited with the government, of course that’s all there is in North Korea, and we went to the Korea Computer Center and they asked us all about future versions of Android,” he said in the speech. “Obviously they have access, at least in the government, to what we are doing, as if I was going to tell the future roadmap of Android to the North Koreans. I obviously didn’t.”
I’ve been waiting for the video to verify exactly what he said after a report in the Chosun Ilbo made it seem like the North Koreans were asking Schmidt for top-secret software code. (see image, right)
In fact, rather than trying “to get classified software technology” as the Chosun Ilbo painted, it appears the computer scientists just wanted to know what features would be available in future versions of Android. Pretty much everyone in the mobile industry has the same question — something Google could reveal that later this week at its I/O conference in San Francisco.
Getting Android doesn’t even need Google’s permission. The basic version of Android is open-source software that can be freely downloaded from the Internet. An export license may officially be required, but that doesn’t appear to have been a hurdle so far.
That basic version doesn’t include the Google services, like Gmail, Maps or YouTube. For those apps a licensing agreement is required with Google.
Beyond the North Korea-specific comments, the whole thing is worth watching if you’re interested in what’s driving Schmidt these days. Listen and it will become clear that his January trip to Pyongyang wasn’t at all about opening up North Korea to Google, but about opening up a dialogue with the country about it’s coming transition to a more connected place. That’s something he sees as inevitable.
“We’re going to see this one-way valve from the connected world to the non-connected world, and this is going to happen whether we like it or not,” he said.
More connectivity will not only transform the lives of North Koreans, but has the chance to fundamentally change the way the rest of the world looks at North Korea. Right now, too much of the world views North Korea by its government’s actions and sees the people as nothing more than a brain-washed populous. Schmidt argues that will change.
“All of a sudden we’re going to hear the distinct voices of citizens in those countries in a way we’ve never heard before, and by the way, they’re just like us. They’re human beings, they’re curious, they want the right things for their children, they want good health, they don’t want war, all those kinds of things,” he said.
But he acknowledges that authoritarian governments are going to push against further expansion of communications technology.
“Governments are going to work really, really hard to stop this because they way to really get a dictator going is to threaten their authority, which is the way revolutions occur,” he said.
There was a final shout-out to North Korea, when Schmidt said he viewed the country as the second worst for connectivity and flow of information in the world.
“What’s interesting is that I had always thought the worst place was North Korea, and I’ve since discovered there is an even worse place, which is Eritrea, which I have not yet been able to go to but is my objective,” Schmidt said.
Eritrea usually sits with North Korea at the bottom of the Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House press freedom rankings.
Reporters Without Borders recently characterized Eritrea as, “a vast open prison for its people.”
File this one under business as usual. North Korea was again ranked second-to-last in Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom index while South Korea continued to drop down the ranking.
The Paris-based press censorship watchdog ranked North Korea as 178th in its survey, just one rank above Eritrea.
“Kim Jong-un’s arrival at the head of the Hermit Kingdom has not in any way changed the regime’s absolute control of news and information,” the organization said in a statement.
North Korea and Eritrea have occupied the bottom two positions in the survey since 2007. Prior to that year, North Korea was ranked bottom from 2002 to 2006.
The survey looks into the availability of private media outlets, the ability to which journalists can question authority, professional journalism training, and whether the government or major companies hold sway over the media.
North Korea’s media is all tightly state controlled and no private media sources exist within the country.
North Korea, China (173rd), Vietnam (172nd) and Laos (168th), all ruled by authoritarian parties, still refuse to grant their citizens the freedom to be informed. The control of news and information is a key issue for these government, which are horrified at the prospect of being open to criticism. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, who succeeded his father Kim Jong-il on 30 December 2011, appears to rule in concert with the military junta. — Reporters Without Borders, January 29, 2013.
Across the border, South Korea saw its rank fall from 44 to 50.
Benjamin Ismaïl, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific Desk, told me the drop is partially due to the prosecution of Chung Bong-ju, a politician who was jailed for spreading false rumors during an appearance on the Naneun Ggomsuda podcast.
South Korea was also marked down for general online censorship, notably the security law that restricts information about North Korea, and the unlawful termination of journalists and breach of Editorial independence, he said.
“Another reason is the climate of self censorship and pressure that journalists expressed in South Korea, when responding the questionnaires,” said Ismaïl. The questionnaire answers carry more weight in the survey because they “define the structural situation of press freedom in South Korea, while the statistics measure more ‘volatile’ data.”
North Korea remains high on the list of enemies of the Internet, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said Monday in an annual report on Internet censorship.
The country was listed alongside Bahrain, Belarus Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam as a home to the world’s most repressive online regimes.
The news won’t come as a surprise to anyone that follows North Korea. The country has the world’s harshest restrictions on Internet use and an almost total ban on access. Only a handful of the country’s 24 million people are allowed access, and then it’s only to operate propaganda websites or harvest technical and educational manuals, books and materials for domestic use.
Reporters Without Borders also singles out South Korea’s increasing use of the National Security Law to clamp down on anything online considered “pro-North Korean.”
The report highlights a previous article on this blog noting Police submitted 80,449 requests to the Korea Communications Standards Commission for the removal of online postings in 2010 compared to just 1,793 in 2008.
The law, which the group calls “obsolete and arbitrary” has also been used to arrest two Internet users: Park Jeong-geun and Kim Myung-soo. The arrests and the law, which dates to 1948, recently brought South Korea some international attention through several U.S. media reports.
Last week a South Korean court handed down a suspended prison sentence to a former military officer for running a “pro-North Korea Internet community.” Local media said the man, identified only by his surname Bang, was sentenced to two years in jail, suspended for three years. Bang ran a website and uploaded 379 postings that were favorable to North Korea, the court heard.
Far from free speech, the judge in the case, Shin Woo-jung, was quoted by The Korea Times as saying, “Bang’s activities could possibly become a threat to the [South’s] system of liberal democracy.”
North Korea has again been ranked the second-worst country in the world for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders. The Paris-based organization has consistently ranked the DPRK at the bottom of the world in terms of press freedom for the last decade.
“It is no surprise that the same trio of countries, Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea, absolute dictatorships that permit no civil liberties, again occupy the last three places in the index,” it said in the survey.
The news should come as no surprise to North Korea watchers. The government holds absolute control over the media, which delivers a centrally composed message through TV, radio and newspaper platforms. No independent media is permitted, citizens are prohibited from accessing foreign media and have no ability to connect to the Internet.
In North Korea (178th), although news and information was able to move across its borders to a greater extent, no one knows whether this will continue under Kim Jong-un, the son and heir of Kim Jong-il. The dynastic succession, the dominance of the military machine and the government’s desire for power give no grounds for optimism. — Reporters Without Borders, Press Freedom Index 2011-2012
A handful of shortwave radio stations target the country and are believed to be listened to by a small number of people with illegal radios. Additional information — most often DVDs of South Korean TV dramas — is smuggled across the border with China. Those paths were highlighted in a report published by RSF in late 2011.
South Korea was ranked 44th in the survey, a drop of two places from 2010.
Reporters Without Borders ranks each country according to a press freedom score, which is derived from answers to questions about press issues in each country. South Korea scored 12.67 in the latest survey, an improvement from the 13.33 scored in 2010 (a lower score means more press freedom) but the figures are not directly comparable because scoring criteria was changed.
Reporters Without Borders didn’t respond to requests to elaborate on the issues that contributed to South Korea’s 2011 ranking.
South Korea was blasted in the previous survey for its increasing use of the National Security Law to remove Internet content associated with North Korea.
Reporters Without Borders has published a detailed report on the North Korean media landscape. The report is the result of of a fact-finding trip to Seoul in July by an RSF staffer and concludes that North Korea is no longer as sealed off from the outside world as it used to be.
Shortwave radio broadcasts from foreign stations, CDs and DVDs of South Korean TV broadcasts, data smuggled over the Chinese border and USB keys dropped by balloon are all creating cracks in the wall of isolation that has surrounded North Korea for decades, said the report.
It also called on the South Korean government to provide more support for private radio broadcasters that target North Korea.
“These exile radio stations are now the main guarantors of North Koreans’ right to diverse news and information,” said RSF.
A lot of the information in the report won’t come as news to North Korea watchers but it does provide a good overview of the current media landscape to those who haven’t been tracking it closely.
The report, “North Korea: Frontiers of censorship,” is the first detailed write-up of the North Korean media scene since RSF published its “Journalists in the service of a totalitarian dictatorship” report in 2004.
North Korea came second to late in the 2010 RSF ranking of press freedom worldwide. It scored slightly less than bottom-ranked Eritrea.