Magazine aims to report on reality of life in North

by Kazuaki Nagata

The magazine Rimjingang, whose Japanese version was published for the first time Thursday, aims to let the world know what is really happening in North Korea through the eyes of its own citizens and to connect them to the outside world, the magazine’s editors said.

“If the situation continues like this, the current hardship that North Korean citizens face will hardly be kept on record,” Jiro Ishimaru, a journalist and representative of the Osaka office of Asia Press International, an organization of freelance journalists, told a news conference in Tokyo.

Ishimaru’s office organizes the magazine’s reporting team, which has six North Koreans contributing articles from the reclusive state, as well as several supporters helping their operations.

Rimjingang will be published quarterly in Japan and was named by the North Korean reporters for the river that crosses the border of North and South Korea and reaches the Yellow Sea.

Some of the reporters who had earlier defected from North Korea went back to secretly report on the realities of life in their home state that remain elusive to outsiders, Ishimaru said.

They received journalism training from Asia Press.

According to Ishimaru, when returning defectors voluntarily declare that they fled the country, they face more lenient punishment than if they are simply caught by the North’s authorities.

The first Japanese issue features a variety of topics, including what was happening in North Korea during the missile tests in July 2006 and everyday scenes of people’s lives in Pyongyang, with photos secretly shot by the reporters.

The reporters contribute their articles under pseudonyms.

Ishimaru, who has covered North Korean issues since the 1990s, said it is extremely difficult for an outsider to report on North Korea — especially its average citizens’ lives — due to the severe restrictions imposed by the authorities.

“I tried my best to approach the core of North Korea,” Ishimaru said at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. “But there is a wall that outsiders just cannot get through.”

He therefore thinks it is crucial to have supporters in North Korea.

Meanwhile, many of the hundreds of North Korean defectors interviewed by Asia Press members said they wanted others to know the situation in North Korea, and two of them later expressed interest in going back to report on their home country, according to Ishimaru.

Ishimaru said the reporters realize the risk and danger of undertaking such work. He said it is therefore important their activities should be strictly voluntary and that Asia Press will do its utmost to support them.

He said the North Korean-based reporters can contact editors via phone. They also occasionally cross the border into China to file their stories or hire somebody to pass their articles on to the editors, according to Ishimaru.

While reporting on news from North Korea, reporters often in turn tell North Korean citizens what is happening in the world outside their hermit state, he said.

The Korean version is overseen by North Korean defector and author Choi Jin I. An English version will be available in Japan on a quarterly basis starting in June.