As of 1 January 2002, there is still no news about Takashi Sugishima, a retired journalist who had worked for the Japanese daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun. He was arrested on 4 December 1999 and accused of "espionage" by North Korean police. Audio and video equipment was found in his bags (in North Korea, it is illegal to record images). Takashi Sugishima entered North Korea with a group of far-left militants, without a "press visa". Some Japanese journalists say that he could have used footage filmed during his trip to prepare reports to be broadcast in Japan. His former newspaper refused to defend him.
In a letter addressed to participants of the 8th Congress of the Korean Journalists Union, in December 2001, President Kim Jong Il reminded journalists that they were the "ideological standard-bearers who defend our system and our cause". In response, the participants who were "enthusiastic" at hearing the words of their "dear leader" concurred as to the importance of the "immortal work that Socialist media must carry high into the new century." They also stated that North Korean journalists should, "brandish their pens to bring an end to reactionary and imperialist offensives." In North Korea, all the media speak for the regime and its leader Kim Jong Il, and publish pages of stories and hours of news about him. Television news programmes are just a series of images of the dictator visiting new companies, or inaugurating ceremonies, with lyrical commentaries on the greatness of Kim Il Sung’s son. Official newspapers are displayed in the streets, but few people stop to read them or buy them. They are however well distributed in the country’s administrations. The Party’s newspaper and the national press agency have web sites hosted in Japan. Direct Internet access within North Korea is accessible only to a few privileged people.
Strict controls keep the country’s population from accessing any kind of information from overseas. The authorities can count on the cooperation of the Chinese police to track down those who attempt to bring information in or out of the country by its northern border. In early 2001, North Korean security forces searched along the northern border zone and confiscated more than a hundred television sets that had not been configured to only receive the country’s official channels. In North Korea, radios and television sets are blocked so they can only receive programmes broadcast by state media.
In February 2001, Elisabeth Rosenthal, a New York Times correspondent stationed in Beijing, left Pyongyang precipitously. This journalist was accompanying a delegation of the humanitarian organisation AmeriCares, but North Korean authorities refused to allow her to work. Her guides prevented her from taking notes and asking questions. She refused to accept these conditions and left the country.
In May 2001, the Pyongyang regime allowed 75 foreign journalists into the country to cover a visit by European diplomats. This was the largest international delegation ever received in North Korea. When the journalists arrived, they were welcomed by "translators", whose mission was to watch over these journalists and spread the "good word". A reporter from the French daily Libération said that journalists were not allowed to travel alone in the city, and those who attempted to do so were taken back to their hotels by their "guardian angels", after their film was confiscated. After spending some time in North Korea, a journalist from Radio-Canada said that his "handlers" systematically prevented him from filming images of anything to do with the country’s problems of poverty and famine.
The "dear leader" Kim Jong Il has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters without Borders.