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Video: Chris Green on Information Freedom Activities in North Korea

September 2, 2013

Christopher Green is the manager of international affairs at the Daily NK, an online newspaper published in four languages that is dedicated to reporting real news from within North Korea. He spoke on the topic of “Information Freedom Activities in North Korea: What Goes In, What Comes Out, and Why It Matters” at week five of NKnet’s Spring 2012 speaker series on North Korea human rights. The talk runs about 43 minutes and then Chris takes nearly two dozen questions (!) on a variety of topics from the audience. Below is an outline of the material covered.

Read a write-up and view photos from this event.

Video Timeline

4:11 What is information freedom in/for North Korea?

6:49 Why do I need to know this stuff?
– It’s all about getting a better life.

7:37 Why do the North Korean people need to know this stuff?

8:27 The “Information Freedom Gang”:
1) Daily NK & broadcasters (Open Radio for North Korea, Radio Free Chosun, North Korea Reform Radio)
2) NKnet, Citizens’ Alliance, North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, North Korea Strategy Center
3) Creative individuals

11:52 How does Daily NK get info out of North Korea?
– eg: reporter who before was a former low-level party cadre whose employees gathered medicinal herbs in order to trade for flour from China
– talk through Chinese cell phones to their personal networks back home

19:49 Isn’t it dangerous?
– But now the NK people have an outlet…. “Ultimately, they want to tell their stories, because that’s what human beings want to do”

20:53 Why does this matter?
Case Study 1: Death of a Dictator (Look at all that weeping!)

– How does the Daily NK know what its sources say is true?
   – Cross-check info handed down in Inminban from area to area
     eg: currency reform at end of 2009
   – smaller stories are harder to cross-check

30:55 Case Study 2: The Building of an Illusion
Pyongyang’s skyline looks “just like Singapore”
– the regime wants you to believe the new Mansudae apartments are really good
– many students died on the construction sites
– ran out of materials to finish the interiors

35:28 Case Study 3: A Watery Grave
AP report: a new hydroelectric power station will address the Pyongyang power shortage, but Daily NK report about Heechon Power Plant in Jagang Province:
Heechon Opening Hides Troubles
– currently it’s just a dam, doesn’t generate any electricity

38:11 Case Study 4: A Chopper and Some Men with Guns
– news the KCNA doesn’t bother to tell you
   – Helicopter Crash Kills NK Commerce Minister
   – 6-7 Dead as Armed Men Flee for China (this story came from Chinese sources)

Q&A

43:41 Q: How is information circulated in North Korea, how do North Koreans share info that the government may not want them to share?
– Markets. Eg: why is the price of rice so high? Well, did you hear what just happened? Etc.

45:50 Q: Did you get to work with Hwang Jang Yop, what was he like?
– My colleagues respected him very much. He was a grandfather figure to the NKHR movement, the NK defector movement has yet to replace him since he passed away in 2010.

46:55 Q: Any internet presence, online connectivity?
– No.

47:35 Q: Over last 7-10 years, has the paranoia about talking with each other inside NK about the government gone down?
– Not aware of people directly criticizing the government, but indirectly/implicitly doing so.

49:26 Q: Do you provide payment to your sources, has anything happened to your sources?
– Yes…

51:19 Q: Are cyber-attacks frequent?
– Yes.

52:10 Q: (Two weeks ago) Lankov said markets will bring the NK system down. Do you believe the information flow into/out of NK will partner with the markets?
– Absolutely, the markets have laid the foundations for that flow of information. It may take 10s of years.

53:13 Q: Why are there so many defector radio stations broadcasting to North Korea, would it be better for them to combine?
– In terms of the number of defector organizations in general, there is a lack of trust among the defector community, and, while not prevalent, some see setting up an NGO as a way to earn a living.

55:11 Q: What is the process becoming a source inside North Korea?
– Some are friends & family, ie, pre-established networks, others are targeted while they’re in China

57:12 Q: Was your network of sources disrupted at the time that journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were caught along the border in 2009?
– We had to redouble efforts to be careful, but it didn’t disrupt our ability to disseminate news.

58:05 Q: Within the context of the recent missile failure and the US’s subsequent termination of food aid, do you see North Korea’s future ending in a cataclysmic way or a slow, gradual process?
– In order for North Korea to achieve a smooth transition, it would require awful lot of things to go well, but it wouldn’t take much for it to tip over into the alternative.

59:03 Q: How widespread is the knowledge from the outside that’s getting into North Korea?
– Most of that info comes from the defectors who’ve come to South Korea.

1:00:16 Q: How did the North Korean media report the rocket launch failure?
– They reported 4 hours later not that the rocket failed but that the satellite it carried failed to enter orbit…

1:05:50 Q: Please comment on what defectors have said about their experiences with South Korean or international media.
– In Kaesong, I tested listening to FM stations on my iPod, got three: KBS, MBC, and Free North Korea Radio. Most broadcasts are over shortwave. If the quality of the programming and the signal were better, more people would listen. The South Korean government doesn’t allow defector radio stations to broadcast on FM.

1:09:17 Q: What percentage of North Koreans have TVs?
– One of the main forms of North Korean propaganda is TV, so most people have a TV or access to one.

1:10:42 Q: What’s the history of the Daily NK?
– The president, Park In-ho, was an ultra-leftist, Juche ideology follower in the 1990s. At the time of the famine he and the other founders of the Daily NK and NKnet changed their views.

1:12:30 Q: What’s your relationship like with major international news agencies and how do they see Daily NK and how do they get their information?
– They like us, because they don’t feel a sense of competition, but there is an element of a feeling among major South Korean news organizations that they’re achieving less despite more resources.

1:13:39 Q: What’s the utility of the views & information your provide and how do you think that could be used more effectively if more people knew about it?
– You can’t make a policy without knowledge.

1:14:56 Q: AP Bureau in Pyongyang
– I don’t want to say they shouldn’t be there, they should, but they should be very well aware that they are projecting credibility onto the Korean Central News Agency. There’s a danger that the AP could end up parroting what the KCNA wants them to say.

1:16:29 Q: What sites do you read for analysis?
– I read everything that comes through the Daily NK, I also read NKIS, NKSC, AP, as much as I can.

1:17:38 Q: Have you seen less or more info coming out (or other trends) since Kim Jong Un came to power?
– The North Korean government has taken great pains to limit information getting out since Kim Jong Il passed away. Along the border, the authorities focus their attention on info getting out in Shinuiju in the west, where the most people are, and it gets easier to contact people in North Korea as you move west along the border.

1:19:23 Q: Are there common characteristics among your sources? What kind of person steps up to do this?
– The desire to tell their story; women who work in the markets (have more money and have cellphones), men who are low-level party functionaries; tend to be more educated, because they tend to realize what they’re missing.

1:20:49 Q: Since markets are so important to the information flow, did you have problems getting info out when they cracked down on the markets?

1:22:21 Q: Have changes in South Korea’s domestic politics affected your ability to work? (Sunshine era)
– The president of the Daily NK say that both the left and the right both say they want to help North Korea but neither really wants to, he doesn’t see much difference between them. Both during the Sunshine era and the Lee Myung Bak era, the government has refused to help organizations like the Daily NK.

1:23:38 Q: Even if the South Korean government doesn’t help you, does it interfere? If you contact people in North Korea, doesn’t that run afoul of the National Security Law?
– Re: NSL, no, but the government does get in the way by making reading the KCNA, Rodong Shinmun, etc. illegal. If the man on the street in South Korea could pick up the Rodong Shinmun and read what the North Korean government says, there wouldn’t be a supporter of North Korea left in the South, because it’s laughable. On a practical, day-to-day level, they leave us alone.

1:24:32 Q: Is there still a large divide between the show city of Pyongyang and everywhere else?
– Kim Jong Un made a speech in April in which he said the main focus of investment should be Pyongyang, but he also said regional cities should be run better and improved. Based on my trips in 2006 and this year, things look nicer.

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