Sunday, March 13, 2011

Eroding North Korea's isolation

Courtesy of Longreads, a link to a lengthy piece in The Atlantic by Robert S. Boynton about the handful of dedicated souls communicating with North Koreans in defiance of Kim Jong-Il's repressive government.

Articles about North Korea generally hook me these days because it is such a bizarre specimen of a nation. Its insularity is remarkable; its government's success at indoctrinating its people while keeping them ignorant of the rest of the world is almost unbelievable.
Given this isolation, it’s even more remarkable that since 2004, a half-dozen independent media organizations have been launched in Northeast Asia to communicate with North Koreans—to bring news out of the country as well as to get potentially destabilizing information in. ... And as with all intelligence-gathering projects, their most valuable assets are human: a network of reporters in North Korea and China who dispatch a stream of reports, whether about the palace intrigue surrounding the choice of Kim Jong Il’s successor, or the price of flour in W┼Ćnsan.

... [T]hese new media organizations are helping to create something remarkable: a corps of North Korean citizen-journalists practicing real journalism inside the country.
Amazing.

The threat to the North Korean government arises not just from these new media organizations. Ordinary North Koreans are gaining access to technologies that let them obtain information in a variety of ways, complicating the government's job of suppression.
Across the border, as the Chinese got richer, they were trading in their Walkmans and cheap computers for iPods and computers with larger hard drives and DVD burners. And what do a billion Chinese do with their old stuff? Sell it to their poor neighbors. (A 2009 survey found that 58 percent of North Koreans had regular access to a cassette recorder with radio, and 21 percent watched videos on video-compact-disc players.)
It's dangerous for the news gatherers and news consumers alike, but these developments are probably the best chance North Korea has of rejoining the human race.

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