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The internet opens a view on North Korea

Kevin Anderson | 15:25 UK time, Tuesday, 20 June 2006

One thing that I've got to do for the programme is to try to use the internet to peer into the secretive world of North Korea. Of course, there is the official site of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Anu and I looked around the site a few months ago, when I was trying to get in contact with people in countries with little press freedom. One thing that caught our eye was the 160-page biography of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (PDF file).

But that's just a start. Tourists have written their accounts and there are several blogs as Mark pointed out that help lift the curtain of secrecy that surrounds North Korea.

You can get all of the official news in English from the Korean Central News Agency of the DPRK. Today, they are featuring stories such as the Immortal Feats Performed by Kim Jong Il in Leadership over Party. Here's a taste:

General Secretary Kim Jong Il started his work at the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea on the 19th of June 42 years ago. Epochal changes have been since effected in the work of the WPK and the revolutionary development and a new era of great creation and change has been ushered in.

UPDATE: Aidan Foster Carter, a Korean expert who joined us the programme, tells me that this ISN'T the official site for North Korea. He says that this site is registered to someone in Spain. Here is the official site for the North Korea, there are two sites, one here, and one registered in Japan.

When I need to generate some cult of personality, I know who I'll turn to. One of my favourite sites on North Korea is a database of DPRK propaganda.

They have some sample searches for your enjoyment. For instance, you can perform a search on all instances of the phrase 'mercilessly crush' in North Korean propaganda. For real entertainment, we always turn to the KCNA Random Insult Generator. One of the random insults:

You despicable warmonger, you will be dealt a thousandfold retaliatory blow!

Visitors to North Korea

There are also a few really interesting stories online from people who have visited North Korea. Scott Fisher writes in great detail about a trip he took to North Korea in 2002.

In an age where you can get Starbucks on Thai islands, Baskin-Robbins in Saigon, Coke and McDonalds just about everywhere, it's nice to finally visit a place lacking even the knowledge of such things. The most end-of-the-earth Chinese villager knows of Michael Jordan. In North Korea our big city Pyongyang guides had no clue who he was - until we pointed out his name on an autographed basketball in the Gifts to Kim Jong-il Museum. Then they were sure he must be someone really important. A mere basketball player? No way!

Another thing online that gets lots of attention is a collection of pictures taken by Russian web designer, Artemiy Lebedev. Here is a really good gallery of the pictures with translation of the captions from Russian.

On your arrival at the airport you need to leave your cellphone, no roaming service is avaliable but if you select an operator manually you get PRK 03 although he never saw a single person with a cell-phone.

As Mark said, NKZone is a great group blog on North Korea, but The Marmot’s Hole also covers Korean stories but with much less focus on North Korea.

UPDATE: I sent a message to Robert Koehler of The Marmot Hole to invite him to join the programme. He very kindly agreed to stay up until the early morning to join us, but we had difficulty getting through to his mobile phone. But he wrote this post, which is an amazing roundup of media coverage both inside and outside of South Korea.

He told me in an e-mail:

The issue is being taken very differently here in the sense that the government, while taking things seriously, is downplaying reports. The conservative press is killing President Roh because of it, but my guess is---and this is from reading some of the Roh-friendly progressive press---is that the government is more concerned about all its diplomatic efforts with Washington going up in smoke and/or the Americans overreacting than the actual threat, and at any rate, ICBMs don't really change things for the South Koreans, who have been living under the North Korean missile/artillery threat for some time.

Media comment

There is a good roundup both of US media but also of English language Korean media at the Washington Post. Also, at the Post, their national and homeland security correspondent William Arkin says that North Korea is a non-threat.

North Korea, starved for attention and with its own fish to fry domestically and in its own region, may or may not be preparing some rocket for launch, and it may or may not be attempting to use its missile as a bargaining chip or a PR stunt, and it may just be attempting to put its own satellite into space. What should crystal clear though in a world of risks and balances is that North Korea's missile, even if it exists, is hardly a threat to us.

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