‘Rimjingang’ in the Wall Street Journal

According to the Wall Street Journal:

There are several news organizations supporting journalists in North Korea. One is Rimjin-gang magazine, a division of AsiaPress International, based in Osaka. The founder and editor of Rimjin-gang is a Japanese journalist by the name of Jiro Ishimaru. As the world’s journalists were reporting from Pyongyang last week, Mr. Ishimaru was in the U.S., presenting his reporters’ remarkable videos, photographs and articles to American audiences. A book containing English-language translations of some of the magazine’s best stories was published on Oct. 15.

Rimjin-gang is the Korean name for the Imjin River, which begins in North Korea and runs south across the demilitarized zone. It is a symbol of North Koreans sending information to the South, Mr. Ishimaru says. “I came to realize that outsiders attempting to shed light on North Korea hit a wall that is simply impossible to breach. No one can report on a nation better than its own people.”

Mr. Ishimaru runs a staff of 10 reporters. For security reasons, each reporter operates independently without knowledge of the identity of his colleagues or what they are doing. The reporters are men and women who want to do something with their lives and who want to help their country, Mr. Ishimaru says. They believe that “if you don’t do something, you are just a slave.”

Mr. Ishimaru recruits his reporters in the border regions of China, home to tens of thousands of North Korean refugees who have escaped across the Yalu or Tumen rivers. He and colleagues from South Korea give the budding journalists a crash course in the basics of journalism and teach them how to use essential technology. The journalists then go back to North Korea with enough money to travel around the country, pay bribes if they get into trouble, and eventually return to China.

It is next to impossible for ordinary North Koreans to get close to military installations, the gulag or Kim Jong Eun. So the reporters have decided to focus on day-to-day life in North Korea, especially starvation, the growing market economy and corruption. They have produced more than 100 hours of video on these subjects. Among the tapes I viewed were ones that showed bags of rice labeled “WFP”—for the United Nations World Food Program—being sold in a marketplace, and soldiers using a military truck as a bus service for paying customers.

The information doesn’t flow just one way. Mr. Ishimaru’s reporters also try to get information about the outside world into North Korea, usually in the form of CDs containing videos of South Korean soap operas, news shows or documentaries. Before DVD players came into use in China, VCD players—video CD players—had a short run of popularity. Chinese merchants now sell these discarded devices, along with CDs, across the border in North Korea. It’s against the law to possess a VCD player or to watch South Korean videos, but the law-enforcement system has broken down enough that more and more North Koreans are taking the risk, assuming that if they get caught they can bribe local officials to look the other way.

Here are previous posts featuring information from Rimjingang.

Read the full story here:
A Free Press Stirs in North Korea
Wall street Journal
Melanie Kirkpatrick
10/19/2010

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