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NORKS powers down whole towns to find pirates

Smuggled vids help improve press freedom in hermit nation

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Reclusive totalitarian state and US-hater North Korea has taken a very small step towards greater press freedom, although not through any humanitarian efforts of the Kim Jong-un regime.

NORKS remains in last place in the latest annual rankings drawn up by Washington-based NGO Freedom House with a miserly score of just 96, tied with Turkmenistan.

It was given one point more than last year, not because of a slowly thawing approach to press regulation by Pyongyang but “as a result of increased attempts to circumvent stringent censorship and the use of technologies such as smuggled DVDs to spread news and information”.

DVDs and USBs loaded with South Korean TV shows and films are usually brought in across the northern border with China, although the authorities are getting wise to the increase in smuggling.

One trick is to cut off the power supply to an area – assuming it was on in the first place – and go house to house to check if any of the DVD players have contraband discs stuck in them, according to the North Korea Tech blog.

As a result, USBs have become more favoured for smuggling in foreign content, although the authorities have apparently reacted by disabling the USB ports on DVD players imported from China.

There were hopes when the 30-year-old Kim Jong-un came to power that he may herald a more relaxed approach to online freedoms and for a while it seemed that way after Google’s Eric Schmidt paid a visit there and then foreigners and tourists were allowed 3G data connectivity.

However, 3G access has now been switched off and the anti-US/Japan/South Korea rhetoric from Pyongyang has grown ever louder over recent weeks.

For the record, Freedom House didn’t exactly give a glowing account of the rest of the world either, claiming in its report that "the percentage of people worldwide who enjoy a free media environment fell to its lowest point in more than a decade”. ®

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