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North Korea Last In Press Freedom

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based independent monitoring group, ranks North Korea as the worst violator of free expression. Joining North Korea at the bottom of the group's latest survey are Turkmenistan, Eritrea, and Cuba.

In its report, Reporters Without Borders says that dictator Kim Jong-Il has direct control over "the entire North Korean press, particularly the Rodong Shinmun, or The Workers' Newspaper, the Korean Central News Agency, [and] national television."

According to Reporters Without Borders, "A typing error can be very expensive: dozens of North Korean journalists are sent to 'revolutionary' camps for a simple spelling mistake." Also, according to Reporters Without Borders' own reporting, "Song Keum-chul of [North Korean] state television was put in a concentration camp at the end of 1995, for having set up a small group of critical journalists. Nothing has been heard of him since."

The U.S. State Department's latest human rights report says that the North Korean government prohibits citizens from "listening to foreign media broadcasts except by the political elite, and violators were subject to severe punishment. Radios and television sets, unless altered, received only domestic programming; radios obtained from abroad must be altered to operate in a similar manner."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Barry Lowenkron says there are similarities among those nations that violate press freedom and other human rights:

"Countries in which power was concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers tend to be the world's most systematic human rights violators. These states range from closed, authoritarian regimes like Burma and North Korea, to Belarus and Zimbabwe, in which the exercise of basic human rights is severely restricted."

It is essential for governments of free countries, along with non-governmental organizations like Reporters Without Borders, to speak out on the repression of press freedom in North Korea and elsewhere. Without journalists who can report facts without fear, no nation can be free.

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.