Tags: NKorea | news | constraints | media

Despite Constraints, News Trickles From NKorea

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 10:04 PM

SEOUL — For a journalist who helped break one of the biggest stories out of North Korea in the past year, Mun Seong-hwi keeps an extremely low profile. The name he offers is an alias. He does not reveal what he did in North Korea before his defection in 2006, aside from mention of a “desk job,” in order to protect relatives left behind.

Ha Tae-keung, president of Open Radio for North Korea, talked to a North Korean refugee stringer in China from his office in Seoul.

He also maintains a wall of secrecy around his three “underground stringers” in North Korea, who he says do not know he works for Daily NK, an Internet news service based in Seoul and reviled by Pyongyang.

On Nov. 30, quoting Mr. Mun’s and other anonymous “sources inside North Korea,” Daily NK reported that, starting that day, the North Korean government would radically devalue its currency, requiring people to exchange their old bank notes for new at a rate of 100 to 1. Furthermore, there would be limit on how much of this old money people could turn in for new.

The report, which made headlines around the world and was later confirmed by South Korean officials, had far-reaching implications. It meant, among other things, that the North Korean government was cracking down on the country’s nascent free markets, wiping out much of the wealth private entrepreneurs had accumulated by trading goods at a time when the Communist government’s ration system was failing to meet its people’s basic needs.

“I take pride in my work,” Mr. Mun, a man in his early 40s with brooding eyes and a receding hairline, said in an interview. “I help the outside world see North Korea as it is.”

Daily NK is one of six news outlets that have emerged in recent years specializing in collecting information from North Korea. These Web sites or newsletters hire North Korean defectors and cultivate sources inside a country shrouded in a near-total news blackout.

While North Korea shutters itself from the outside — it blocks the Internet, jams foreign radio broadcasts and monitors international calls — it releases propaganda-filled dispatches through the government’s mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency.

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Tuesday, 26 January 2010 10:04 PM
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