Telling a ‘Digital’ story where ‘Digital’ is illegal

Storytelling is an ancient form of communication that has evolved over time with technological development. Digital storytelling is not just about the transfer of knowledge; it is also a movement designed to amplify the voice of a community (Burgess, 2006). Everyone can participate because everyone has a story to tell. But what if your country ranked 196 out of 196 in terms of media freedom. How can you share your story and experience the potentials of new media technologies, if your involvement leaves you facing a risk of imprisonment or even execution? 


The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the archetype of a ‘closed society’. Only an elite few have access to the Internet that I can see hundreds of people using around me in the University library. While we could all be considered ‘citizen journalists’, North Korean citizen journalists are few and far between. Their work is illegal and extremely dangerous. Ishimaru Jiro, a Japanese freelance journalist, began making trips to the China-North Korea border in the 90’s, where he would Interview refugees, shoot videos and write. One of these refugees, Lee Jun, was determined to become a journalist and help North Koreans understand their situation. He began filming in marketplaces with a camcorder stitched into a shopping bag. Jun and Ishimaro also began smuggling footage into these marketplaces. The videos were edited in Japan and sent to China, where a few hundred copies were burned. Traders on the border were eager to get free merchandise and within days the discs were being bought and sold in markets throughout the country. Click here to view Lee Jun’s Story.


The extent North Koreans have to go to receive or send information certainly makes you take a step back and appreciate the ease at which we can ‘connect’. Throughout this media degree so many terms are thrown around. We can now document events in real time. We are produsers, members of online fandoms, bloggers and Vloggers… I mean ‘Googling’ is in the dictionary. The sheer amount of research that has been done on ‘new medias’ and ‘digital technology’ really highlights just how out of the loop North Korea has become (and just how obsessed Western society has become). In a way it shows how easy it is to be left behind by such a fast paced developed world… it certainly makes you think and appreciate #deepthoughts #realtalk #inappropriate?

On a lighter note, here is a really cool time lapse of North Korea’s capital, Pynongyang, showing slowly but surely North Korea is not immune to change… (while I really enjoy this time lapse I also found this article… am I being fooled by NK propaganda too? aghhh!)



  1. Hey,
    Wow, you really raise some good points about what we define digital storytelling to be in modern society. I definitely take our ease of access to information for granted – demonstrated through so many conversations and interactions we have on a daily basis (‘What’s that guys name? The one that was in that obscure movie 10 years ago…? Hang on. I’ll just Google it.’). To think that I would not have access to any information I wanted at the click of a button is hard to grasp – but it’s definitely something that millions of people around the world are faced with.
    In terms of your example of North Korea, I think it’s great – us in a free, Western country are definitely fascinated by the restrictions and regulations they have on freedom and information over there. I would so like to know the basis behind it – maybe it’s something we can find out over the semester.
    Great post!


  2. From this post it looks like your research ties in quite closely with mine and I was really interested to see ways of digital storytelling by North Koreans, as my chosen research is giving a voice to North Korean defectors in South Korea. I really liked ‘The sheer amount of research that has been done on ‘new medias’ and ‘digital technology’ really highlights just how out of the loop North Korea has become (and just how obsessed Western society has become). In a way it shows how easy it is to be left behind by such a fast paced developed world’, because this was very much my realisation when looking into the stories of the North Korean defectors attempting to build a new life in such a foreign environment. Despite working in the 90’s and not being afforded the same technologies as now, your example of Lee Jun is so interesting in the context of digital storytelling. This weeks content sort of got my thinking that digital storytelling gives anybody, anywhere a platform to tell their story – but your post makes me think otherwise. Even with people like Lee Jun, who had the means to tell his story, his ability to share it was hampered by political and social factors. Perhaps digital storytelling isn’t as easy as having a platform, you also need the freedom and autonomy to do and say as you please.


  3. This is such an interesting post! Loving the #realtalk that you are offering, haha.
    I would have never thought to look into something quite like this, its something that we can’t quite understand here (Australia) as we have a realtively free flow of information. I think this is the start of a really interesting topic, perhaps you could look at a specific example? Focusing on something such as the digital divide would be really cool, I had a quick look to see what I could find and found an article that looks at exactly this.
    I like that you’re looking more at the have-nots, its a really interesting balance to the 330 blog!
    Thanks for the good read!


  4. Wow I didn’t know that Korea had such strict access to the internet. I feel like the topic you have chosen is great and very interesting! I love the example of Lee Jun’s digital storytelling you have chosen as it really embraces the idea and the true essence of digital storytelling. I thinks its great that he has chosen the platform of video to help amplify the voice of the community and the difficulties they have with freedom. Here is a great blog i found that discusses freedom issues with south Korea internet censorship.


  5. First off, I salute you for recognising the casual way in which we, as media students in Australia, throw around broad terms which we carelessly address the entirety of digital technology and related behaviours with! It’s definitely something that I have found now gets on my nerves.
    Secondly, I think that this blog you have written provides a well-evidenced, personal, relate-able view into how North Korea has (or has not) responded to the evolving global digital communications industry. The ‘Enter Pyongyang’ short film was an experience that I found quite confronting; it was simultaneously surprising and intriguing, and disturbingly Orwellian in its presentation of North Korean culture. This friction between the media output of North Korea and North Korea’s visitors, and the reality of our own expectations of this experience, may be a really good direction to go in for subsequent blogs!


  6. I had the same reaction to the oppression of peoples digital rights in North Korea. When I started researching for my focus I was profoundly effected by what I found. This was especially so after I read this article.
    It reported the public execution of citizens for illegally watching digital and TV material smuggled in from South Korea. How can the world watch a despotic regime such as this exert such medieval actions on people who wish to experience the outside world?
    Watch the videos.


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