Building a Panopticon-Surveillance and Self-censorship on U.S. Journalists

The concept of Panopticon is to allow a single watchman to observe all inmates without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behavior constantly. The designer-Bentham conceived the basic plan as being equally applicable to hospitals, schools, sanatoriums, daycares, and asylums, but he devoted most of his efforts to developing a design for a Panopticon prison, and it is his prison which is most widely understood by the term. By now, this concept seems to be applicable to today’s government towards media outlets. Freedom of expression is under threat and, as a result, freedom of information is imperiled as well.

After reading the reports by PEN American Center, they raise the question of the harms caused by widespread surveillance in democracies, like the surveillance being conducted by the U.S. National Security Agency. “The NSA’s surveillance will damage the ability of the press to report on the important issues of our time,” note the report author team, “if journalists refrain from contacting sources for fear that their sources will be found out and harmed, or if sources conclude that they cannot safely speak to journalists and thus stay silent.”

According to the above survey, writers and journalists become more and more reluctant to research and write about controversial topics. “I have felt that even to comment on the Snowden case in an email would flag my email as worthy of being looked at,” one respondent said. “I have made a conscious, deliberate choice to avoid certain conversation topics in electronic emails out of concern that those communications may be surveilled,” said another.

With a mascot of a lidless panopticon eyeball dressed as government surveillance, it is worth thinking about how everyday surveillance changes our behavior. Assuming that all the communications among journalists, writers and sources are being monitored and have thus changed their behavior in many ways will certainly curtail their freedom of expression and restrict the free flow of information. With the building-up panopticon system, journalists have to make a decision between paranoid vigilance and easy participation. Like Michel Foucault illustrate in his book Discipline and Punish, he offers an explanation for the type of “anonymous power” held by the operator of the central tower in the panopticon, suggesting that, “We have seen that anyone may come and exercise in the central tower the functions of surveillance, and that this being the case, he can gain a clear idea of the way the surveillance is practiced.”


1. PEN American Center, “Chilling Effects:NSA Surveillance Drives U.S. Writers to Self-Censor”, November 12, 2013.

Click to access Chilling%20Effects_PEN%20American.pdf

2. Foucault Michel, Discipline and Punishment, Vintage Books, New York: 1995: p. 198

North Korea Still be listed by U.S. as a State Sponsored Terrorism

In November 1987, two North Korean spies with Japanese aliases posing as father and daughter boarded Korean Airline Flight 858. Before leaving the aircraft, 25-year-old Kim Hyon-hui planted a bomb in an overhead compartment during a stopover in Abu Dhabi. All 115 people on the plane died in the attack. In response to this incident, the US listed North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1988-which is supposed to be the very beginning that North Korea that bundled by the word “terrorism”.

U.S. seems become a state of extreme nervousness in term of terrorism, especially after 9.11 attack. To put it in a Chinese saying, it’s like every bush and tree look like an enemy. It is nothing wrong for any country to take the threat of terrorism very seriously, especially for the states like U.S who have had suffered a lot, and it did affect the tie between U.S, and DPRK. Nevertheless, the scholar has recently criticizes the US officials and security analysts continue to make a grave mistake in concentrating their North Korea policy on somehow convincing the DPRK to dissolve its nuclear weapons program; a crisis that history has demonstrated with distinction cannot be resolved while the current regime remains in power.North Korea actually takes pride in its status as a nuclear state more than anything else and has stated on numerous occasions that their nuclear capability is non-negotiable and referred to it as a “treasured sword.”

The historical denouncement on North Korea has further impact on other strike that seems unrelated to North Korea. Concurrently, a war on terror with North Korea would never commence by means of a DPRK nuclear strike, which would no doubt be equal to a political suicide, but with covert terror operations such as Boston Bombing-the exact form of attack North Korea has repeatedly employed against South Korea and its citizens since its inception throughout the year after Korean War, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency felt compelled to publicly deny any connection to the Boston Marathon bombings, stating that the DPRK “has consistently maintained the stand of opposing all forms of terrorism.” The official statement later added that “When the DPRK feels necessary to strike the US, it would not resort to such heinous terrorism in hiding.” Yet the facts of North Korea’s international behavior suggests otherwise.

China ready to abandon North Korea?

This is an outbreaking Wikileaks cables that revels the China’s signal of accepting the reunification of Korea Peninsula and distancing itself from the North Korea secretly. According to leaked US embassy cables, South Korea’s vice-foreign minister said he was told by two named senior Chinese officials that they believed Korea should be reunified under Seoul’s control, and that this view was gaining ground with the leadership in Beijing, the senior Beijing officials even regard North Korea as a “spoiled child”.

Here are more details of the leaked cable: “A senior Chinese ambassador warned that North Korean nuclear activity was “a threat to the whole world’s security”. Chinese officials assessed that it could cope with an influx of 300,000 North Koreans in the event of serious instability, according to a representative of an international agency, but might need to use the military to seal the border.”

In 2010, we saw a lot of news about the Chinese shift comes at a crucial juncture after the North’s military activities as well as the nuclear threat. However, from time to time China has refused to condemn the North Korean action. They seldom make diplomatic announcement to support neither western or North Korea side, they officials never mention the reunification issues publicly,either. On the other side, the North Korea would also NEVER said that they are gradually being abandoned by their biggest “ally”.

China is sharply critical of US pressure tactics towards North Korea and wants a resumption of the six-party nuclear disarmament talks. But this leak can reveal Beijing’s frustration with Pyongyang has grown since its missile and nuclear tests since 2009 worries about the economic impact of regional instability, and fears that the death of the dictator, Kim Jong-il, could spark a succession struggle.

At the night of Wikileaks, US held an immediate media conference by Hillary Clinton. She said that US “deeply regrets” the release of the material by WikiLeaks and they were an “attack on the international community”, which will put people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security and undermines efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems. From this cable, China’s moves to distance itself from North Korea soon being published by many international newspapers. Whether it is true or not, the strategic balance of power in Korea Peninsula will be seriously disturbed in the long run, or maybe it already happened but the public just don’t know. After all, with the leak we might know more about the “hidden truth” of this peninsular of ideologic battle field .

Does Social Network Exist in North Korea?

On April 4th, 2013, CNN reported a shocking but interesting news saying that some official North Korean Internet and social media sites appeared Thursday to have been hacked, possibly by the hacker collective Anonymous. The usual hacking included an image skewering North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on an official Flickr account. At the very beginning, the North Korean government website was down, and the official @uriminzok Twitter account has also apparently tampered with, among the pictures on the Flickr account here is the most famous political caricature-a “wanted” poster with an image showing Kim with a pig’s ears and nose, in which accuses Kim of “threatening world peace with ICBMs and nuclear weapons.”

The reason why it is so unusual is that it’s the first time that the North Korea’s internet and social media being massively hacked. Like I mentioned in the previous blog, most North Koreans can’t access any kind of social network, and only foreigners can use the country’s brand-new 3G cellular network. North Koreans use “Red Star,” a state-run operating system that includes government-sanctioned Web sites and local message boards and they can’t access any Western social networks like Facebook and Twitter. The North Korean censorship approach runs all the way down to even the level of hardware.

However, another bizarre fact is that the North Korea government used to have a Youtube account for a very short period of time after King Jong-un took charge. The North Korea YouTube account is the country’s officially recognized, premier means of specifically winning the hearts and minds of English-speakers. Actually the account is run by the Korean Friendship Association (KFA), an international gang of misfits has tasked itself with creating a positive online presence for the “world’s paradoxically communist dictatorships”, but now the account has been terminated because Youtube received multiple third-party claims of copyright infringement regarding material the user posted.

Rimjin-gang: Training the North Korean “citizen journalists”

Rimjin-gang – an unique magazine that solely relies on the reports and analysis made by North Korean journalists themselves. All of the articles they have been published are based on footages gathered from audios, photos, and films. Their journalism totally differs from the superficial reporting by foreign government officials and media permitted only in selected places like Pyongyang, which featuring the true and unadulterated face of North Korea. The mission statement of Rimjin-gang says: “Our reports capture the North Korean people’s reactions to crucial events. They include detailed descriptions of the informal market that has come to support the lives of the common people, as well as an analysis of its social significance. The compilation contains all aspects of modern North Korean society, from politics and economics to fashion and daily life. ”

Ishimaru Jiro, the chief editor and publisher of Rimjin-gang, conceived of the idea of working with North Korean “citizen journalists” .In the previous blog post I mentioned him as the co-publisher of documentary-Secret State of North Korea. After years of attempting to report on North Korea as a foreign journalist from Japan, Ishimaru said that even if his did manage to gain permission to enter North Korea, he was only able to do so under constant monitoring from the government. “They monitor you even when you’re asleep,” said Ishimaru. “I realized that it was impossible to conduct true journalism in North Korea as a foreigner, so I decided to create a training program for North Korean citizen journalist.”

In 2002, in collaboration with the Asia Press,  Jiro developed plans to train North Korean journalists and to create Rimjin-gang. (Named after the river that flows from North Korea to South Korea) In an interview with The Nation, Ishimaru explained that the program starts with a broad discussion of why reporting is important and whether or not such reporting could help bring about change in North Korea. If the potential recruits are still interested in working with Rimjin-gang after these initial conversations, Ishimaru will then teach them the fundamentals of journalism ethics, interviewing, writing, filming, photography and operation of computer and camera equipment. This process can range from a few months to a few years. Throughout the process, the reporters cannot meet each other for safety reasons. Perhaps in other countries, working as a citizen journalists would be fun and easier, but in North Korea, these reporters are risking their lives and under pseudonyms for little pay. 

From this point I have to explain why theNorth Korean citizen journalists cannot just directly send or upload their footages to their editors. Even if the Internet access is available in North Korea, it is only permitted with special authorization and primarily used for government purposes. Most citizens do not have access to any foreign websites, the online services for most individuals and institutions are provided through a free domestic-only network known as Kwangmyong. In other words, any internet activities are fully censored by the government. There are no international social media tools among North Korean citizen journalists, once they collect enough reporting and photo and video footage, the only way that they can get the files back to editor is to make the dangerous crossing from North Korea to China with flash drives concealed in their clothing.

In 2003, Ishimaru started to train his first recruit, Lee Jun, whom he had met on one of his trips to the China/North Korea border. “Even if we are eventually caught,” said Lee Jun, “I believe that we will not regret that we’ve done. No matter how much I think about it, we are working for justice.” In fact, most of the North Korean citizen journalists just believes that their work could make a difference for the future of their country, with this single and pure motivation, they are risking their lives to make the truth get through. Here is an interview with Lee Jun.  

Rimjin-gang has been well received in places such as Japan, Germany, and especially in South Korea, but the editor has strategically focused his promotion of the English edition ofRimjin-gang to Western audiences. However, some Western news organizations are reluctant about adopting Rimjin-gang as primary source material. An Professor at NYU points out that the security measures that Rimjin-gang takes to protect its reporters and sources makes it difficult, if not impossible, to conduct fact-checking. Nevertheless, I have to say in an extremely hostile environment like North Korea, the fact-checking level and procedure need to be reevaluate, and it is totally understandable that Rimjin-gang makes so much effort to protect their citizen journalists as well as the interviewees. This is North Korea, if you told the people that you are doing interviews, it would not just risk your life but those whom you talk to. Ironically, even some well-known western news organizations who have a bureau in North Korea, they actually did do a better job than those citizen journalists.

Nowadays, Ishimaru frequently travels to the border between China and North Korea to train new reporters and to hold meetings with the eight reporters currently stationed in North Korea—two of whom are even mothers with young children. Those citizen journalists make remarkable contributions to let the people outside the North Korea get to know the truth, and more importantly, the potential. They try to plant seeds of democracy in one of the most notoriously isolated, tyrannic states. The seeds of democracy might be growing, and the world need to pay attention to these changes.

Witness to War-Death, Emotions and Truth in Korangal Valley

In Monday’s class, we watched the documentary-Restrepo together, which I think would be one of the most shocking as well as touching war movies I have ever seen before.

Spending a year following a platoon of US troops in the heavily contested Korengal valley in north-eastern Afghanistan, with a unit “considered the tip of the spear for the American forces,” the producers showed us what they have witness by using the first person shaky-cam to illustrate the reality of the scene. Actually at first I felt dizzy with the shaking camera, however as we got to know more about the situation, this kind of strategy made me feel so immersive with the emotions of soldiers, civilians and the whole war atmosphere. especially the scene that when they heard the death of their comrades, the different reactions and the outlets of emotions of the soldiers. Controversially, the content also showed the covering of the body of innocent civilians, which is super rare during the war coverage. By including those realistic scenes in the documentary, Junger and Hetherington are trying to humanize the concept of war, instead of making war into a “spectacle”. My heart was overtly wrenching and terrifying along with the soldiers, also the coverage was rather impartial as well as balanced.

The Vanity article gave me a “slower and clearer” context of what was going on during the intensive, breath-taking chaos in the movie, which could be considered as a reference of the movie. The Photo in the NY times seemed to be a great supplement, like the frozen scene of soldiers’ life. The screening has lightened me to think about the human consequences of war. Those consequences are borne by soldiers too. Not only the civilians were victims, those young American soldiers are also victims of war.

Heroes or Myth-makers

The above picture is the Korean War(1950-53) Veterans memorial in Berrien County, Georgia. The Korean War is also known as the “Unknown War”. Korea, divided after the WW2 into a Communist North and an anti-Communist South, has long been a flash-point in the Cold War. In fact, it is recorded that a great deal of the reportage was propaganda due to the Cold War hatreds of the combatants, and much of what should have been told was never told to the American public, especially the “death”.  Bruce Cumings, a historian and a professor in University of Chicago, criticized in his book-The Korean War, said that:” During this war, we American citizens showed how little we knew about who it was fighting, why it was fighting, and even how it was fighting.” News of the worst atrocities perpetrated against civilians was usually suppressed and the full story of the horrific suffering of the Korean people—who lost nearly 3-million souls of a total population of 23-million— has yet to be told in full. At the beginning of the war, there were voluntary censorship system and most of the correspondent would self-censored when reporting death due to the ethical concerns and cold war pattern pressure. Under pressure to prove their patriotism, many of American journalists got on side and went along with the States military’s view of how the war should be reported, they became engrossed in describing the war in terms of military gains and losses, rather than the standing back and informing the American public or the rest of the world of what happened.

However, some correspondent took direct personal action to inform the public what was going on, even to stop the executions. Alan Dower, who was a former commando officer, was driving into Seoul. When they passed a column of women, many carrying babies, and wearing straw masks over their head, being escorted by South Korean police. The police said that they were Communists and got to be shot. Dower stopped the execution by threatening the police that:” I have sent my paper an outline of the story, but if there were any more executions, then I’d send a story that would rock the world.” Then a month after, MacArthur’s headquarters ended the voluntary censorship system and imposed full military censorship system from Korea.

Another correspondent named James Cameron and photographer Bert Hardy, who then worked for Picture Post, witnessed and photographed the brutality of South Korean authorities towards political prisoners. ” They are roped and manacled.” Cameron recalled, ” We wish we would try to do something about it, but we can’t.” Actually they even got into trouble after publishing the so-called controversial pictures. The below pictures are the roped political prisoners who were suspected of opposing South Korean dictator Syngman Rheeand, wore almost no clothes.

Although there were many great reporters who showed admirable professional and moral courages on the battlefield like the Dower and Cameron, other correspondent must accept some of the blame of the fact that 2 million civilians were killed in Korea, more than 100,000 children were left orphaned. The role of media is to tell the truth as he sees it, even if that truth appears at the time to be too cruel to the public or agains the national interests.


1. Iconic Photos-

2. The First Casualty by Philip Knightley

3. The 38th Parallel-

A controversial visit-Embedding in a student trip as cover into North Korea (Revised)

Last year, John Sweeney, then a broadcast journalist for the investigative programme of BBC- Panorama, entered North Korea with his camera crew to expose a version of North Korea usually shielded from the outside world.

For the programme Sweeney spent eight days undercover in North Korea. Foreign journalists are not allowed to get visas to enter North Korea but overseas academics and students are. Sweeney went with the LSE group on a trip ostensibly arranged by the London School of Economics. His team pretended to be part of the trip, accompanying the students and filming as they travelled around the country on an organised tour given by North Korean guides.

After broadcasted, the documentary hit the headlines after some of the LSE students who accompanied Sweeney and his wife. One of the studnets who was on the trip to North Korea claimed that they only became aware that BBC journalists were embedded with their group once they got to the capital Pyongyang. The director of LSE was extremely unsatisfied about  the risks to which the students had been exposed, along with the father of one of them.  The father said that:” It is clear that the BBC failed the students, who were unwitting human fodder used to fulfill the producer and his wife’s personal ambition to film inside North Korea. We are all fortunate that everyone returned to UK safely.” He wanted the BBC to issue “a broadcast correction of both apology and all the misleading and inaccurate statements made by BBC trustees.

From my point of view after watching the documentary, there is no doubt strong public interests in it. However, the use of the LSE’s address details on the programme team’s visa applications was inappropriate. In an open letter to LSE director Craig Calhoun, one of the students said: “We feel that we have now been put in more risk than was originally the case, as a result of the LSE’s decision to go public with their story.”the deception of these students, and the use of licence-fee payers’ funds to make the programme, including paying for two further ‘phantom student’ places, is highly questionable.
The embedded journalist failed to consider a number of safety issues and risks not only for the LSE student, but also put those two North Korean guides(showed up at the beginning of the documentary) in serious danger.


Unusual Step Of Releasing Footage by KCNA

It might be the only kind of news that the rest of the news organizations could quote latest report from KCNA-natural disaster. North Korea reported timely to the world in English that Typhoon Bolaven, a powerful tropical cyclone that pounded the Korean Peninsula, killed 48 people in the country and left more than 21,000 homeless, injured more than 50 people and destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of crops. This piece was even no later than the Reuter’s footage. Then ten days later, an detailed, heavy casualties report with many accurate statistical data was released by KCNA along with a footage that officially released by the central government(the above link).

CNN News has quoted the original report and added some analysis said that the secretive, militaristic North Korean regime has repeatedly asked for food aid from international aid organizations as it struggles to feed its own people after suffering extensive famines during the 1990s. BBC also covered the aftermath food aid by sending their reporter to South Korea and interviewed a defector to recall the famine memories.

Most of the news that covered this typhoon disaster mentioned North Korea’s unusual step of releasing footage of the devastated areas, showing houses submerged and farmlands destroyed. People in North Korea were suffering with no doubt, the United Nations World Food Program called it an emergency and organized for emergency food aid to be delivered immediately. However, the world seems pretty skeptical about their government’s motivation despite of the humanitarian aid. This time North Korea government worked really efficient on post-disaster statistics- accurate huge numbers, vivid narration and even visual stimulation, yet the skepticism did not come from no reason, later on CNN brought out the evidence that a deal earlier that year (precisely 2 mouth before the typhoon) for the United States to ship food aid to the country fell apart after the authoritarian regime in Pyongyang went ahead with a controversial rocket launch. Other reports from Britain, France and South Korea even China has reported this early incidents.

The sudden ”transparency” brings up to many incredulity around world, people will not intent to doubt the pain of the North Koreans, the world are willing to help them, too. Nevertheless, the government propaganda has already lost its credibility due to the previous dictatorial media campaign as well as the strict censorship.

For the North Korea propaganda, should they just ask themselves first before asking the rest of the world for help: I can’t help ya if you won’t help yourself firstly.

Being forced to get a Kim Jong-Un haircut?

Several news outlets have picked up on unusual news out of North Korea today: Male citizens of the North Korea are being forced to get “Kim Jong Un-style” haircuts. The BBC Monitoring quoted Radio Free Asia reports, said that Male university students in North Korea are now required to get the same haircut as their leader Kim Jong-un, the state-sanctioned guideline was introduced in the capital Pyongyang about two weeks ago, but now being rolled out across the country – although some people have expressed reservations about getting the look.

It sounds like a crazy feature story that highlighting the “malevolent inhuman dictatorship” in modern North Korea, and the rest of the world has photoshopped a lot of Kim Jong-un-like caricatures to make fun of it. Some talk shows even have very biased comment on this story(as far as I am concerned bias) 

Nevertheless, I still remain skeptical about this story: should we believe it or not?

I am not doubting the BBC Monitoring’s credibility, in fact, almost all the news organizations covered this story in a relatively misty way. On one hand, the original news was translated from the Korea Times, an English-language paper published to seen itself as a gateway to South Korea for English-speaking visitors and the diplomatic corps. The Korea Times, on the other hand, got the story from Radio Free Asia, a private, nonprofit corporation that broadcasts that funded by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent agency of the United States government responsible for all non-military, international broadcasting sponsored by the U.S government. The relationship between those news organization seems complicated but in fact it is really problematic as for this story.

Radio Free Asia’s story only appears on the Korean-language version of its Web site, though a representative says that it will be translated soon. However, when I look into the original news, it did not mentioned that the government has set a hairstyle law, the only video about this news were man-on-the-street interviews with South Korean citizens and they were being asked about the opinion in terms of this “decree”. While there have been many reports that hairstyles are strictly restricted in North Korea and the party thought that long hair and other more extreme styles are prohibited, the diversity of hairstyles tolerated in North Korea is probably greater than most of us might expect, especially for women. For men, the relative uniformity of hairstyles, in my opinion, appears to be something else: A trend.

Does this mean that all the story are wrong? Not necessarily – there are not many reporters in North Korea and RFA may simply have better sources than others right now. It is, however, a reminder to treat stories of extreme crazy behavior from North Korea with skepticism.  As credible foreign news organizations, they definitely do not want to passively become a part of North Korea’s propaganda, however, given the number of reports that detail the horrors of the North Korean, they might also face the danger of portraying Kim’s leadership or as silly or insane.

Note: the two original reports are inserted within the post.