Journalism in North Korea: Rimjingan Magazine

A recent issue of the Economist ran a short blurb on Rimjin-gan, a news magazine from North Korea. Asia Press International is a vibrant Japan based news organization which specializes in all forms of human rights reporting. Since 1987, Asia Press International has provided a forum for over 30 activist writers and filmmakers. Their output spans the globe, but focuses on issues of political repression, warfare and health in developing countries. Asia Press International, with seven offices throughout Asia preserves a tradition of activist journalism which has largely been lost in today’s media.

Accurate reporting from North Korea is almost nonexistent. Much of which appears on the western media are reports of international talks, verifiable military actions and that which can be obtained from those lucky enough to escape one of the most isolated and repressive governments on the planet. Largely lost are reports of the experiences of average North Koreans, their attitudes toward the Kim dynasty and the grave state of human rights and health there. Enter Rimjim-gan, named for the Rimjin River which runs through North Korea.

All of Rinjin-gan’s journalists are North Koreans living in North Korean. Asia Press International was able to train them in techniques of covert journalism across the border in China, and provided some with satellite phones. Asia Press now maintains contacts with eight journalists spread throughout the country, who work at incredible risk to their own lives and the lives of their families. These on the ground informal correspondents record conversations with North Koreans, often unbeknownst to the subjects. This, of course, violates traditional standards of journalism, but as the subjects risk imprisonment, torture and death by outwardly stating their opinions, covert methods are preferred. Asia Press obscures the identities of interviewees.

What results is nothing short of incredible. A true independent and subversive press, unheard of in North Korea, provides a voice for those victimized by the Communist regime, and tells a story of food shortages, fear and widespread anger at the present government. A video shot by a Rimjin-gan reporter of a 23 year old woman foraging for food on a mountainside, clearly suffering the effects of malnutrition. She is foraging for food to feed her rabbits, whcih she sell at the market. When asked what she east, she plainly says, “Nothing.” Her parents are both dead and she sleeps outside. If she were born just 60 miles south, she’d likely be thinking about a hopeful future. Here, she likely doesn’t worry about much more than finding enough food to stay alive until tomorrow.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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