The Kim Jong-un regime has attempted to crack down on the smuggling of foreign media into North Korea. In late 2013 the government reportedly executed 80 people across seven cities in a single day, many for trafficking in illegal media.
In February 2014, the Worker’s Party of Korea held its largest-ever conference of propagandists. Kim Jong-un himself delivered an address calling for the party to “take the initiative in launching operations to make the imperialist moves for ideological and cultural infiltration end in smoke” and to set up “mosquito nets with two or three layers to prevent capitalist ideology, which the enemy is persistently attempting to spread, from infiltrating across our border.”
But stamping out illegal media in North Korea has become an intractable problem for the government, according to Sokeel Park, director of research and strategy for Liberty in North Korea. He compares it to the stubborn demand for illegal drugs in the US. “You could call it Kim Jong-un’s War on Information,” he says. “But just like a war on drugs—you can try to slow it down, increase the risks, increase the punishments, put more people in prison. The bribe costs will go up, but it’s still going to happen.”
One young defector says that nearly all of her friends had seen a foreign film or TV show. As a result, her generation is the first to have to square the Kim regime’s propaganda with a keyhole view of the outside world. A group called Liberty in North Korea, which works with young defector refugees, finds that many no longer believe in central tenets of North Korea’s political ideology, such as the country’s superior standard of living or the godlike powers of the Kim family. Even the regime is letting that second illusion slide, admitting that Kim Jong-un has health issues—hardly the norm for heavenly beings.