Around the world, authoritarian regimes have tried to keep their citizens from hearing news of the protests raging throughout the Middle East and in their own countries. Some have tried shutting down cellphone and Internet service, but that has only sparked new flames of anger and discontent.
Even the Chinese government, which has unleashed the most sophisticated Internet blocking system in the world, can't contain all the information and chatter on countless websites, social networks and blogs. [...]
But there is one country that has actually managed to keep the vast majority of its population in the dark: North Korea. Unlike its neighbor China, which has more than 450 million Internet users, the Internet in North Korea is banned for the average citizen. There's no need for the government to block threatening websites, because most North Koreans have never used a computer, let alone understand what a URL is.
In March 2009, while working on a story along the China-North Korean border, I was taken captive by North Korean soldiers and held inside that isolated country for nearly five months. Though I was confined to a room with two guards watching over me at all times, I was able to get an interesting glimpse of the country's propaganda machine.
In the guards' area, a television would blare black-and-white films depicting evil South Korean and American soldiers being beaten back by the North's heroic forces. Elaborate rallies were broadcast with people shouting nationalistic slogans as soldiers marched in unison. And there was frequent coverage of the "Dear Leader," Kim Jong Il, presiding over the opening of factories or schools.
To this day, I can conjure up the tune to North Korea's national anthem, because every evening at 5, when television broadcasts began airing, I was subjected to the sounds of the men's military choir patriotically belting out the lyrics of the communist revolutionary anthem. Every Sunday night, a segment dedicated to international news would feature negative stories about the United States or natural disasters in other countries. It seemed that one responsibility of the government censors was to make the rest of the world appear worse off than North Korea.
Fortunately, I was allowed to receive letters from family and friends, which kept me somewhat connected to what was happening in the outside world. My husband, Iain, scanned pages and photos from newspapers and magazines. In excerpts he sent from the Economist, I learned that hundreds of thousands of Iranians had taken to the streets of Tehran in June 2009 to protest President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection.
On North Korean television, the picture of events taking place in Iran was very different. North Koreans saw only images of jubilant Iranians celebrating Ahmadinejad's victory. I tried to tell my guard that there was another reality from the one being presented on TV. In broken English, she said she didn't understand. It truly seemed that she couldn't comprehend the idea of a people rising up against their leadership and demanding change.
Despite having a near-total lockdown on information that gets transmitted to its population, Kim's totalitarian regime has to be finding it harder and harder to keep the world at bay. North Korea shares borders with two of the most wired countries in the world, and information is seeping in from both sides. [...]There is more to the editorial, follow the link to check it out if you are interested.