SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s main state newspaper warned on Tuesday of the “negative impact” from mobile phones use around the world, as both legal and illicit communications devices proliferate in the isolated country.
Rodong Sinmun published an article citing a ban on phones in classrooms in France and reports of technology-enabled cheating in India and argued that mobile devices were spreading “decadent and reactionary ideological culture”.
“Erotic notices, fictions and videos, as well as violent electronic games, are spreading through the mobile phones without limits,” the newspaper wrote.
“This means that mobile phones are used as tools to instil unhealthy ideas in minors.”
North Korea’s authoritarian government maintains a tight grip on communications, with almost no ordinary citizens allowed to connect by phone or internet to the outside world.
Still, since 2008, the government has rolled out tightly controlled cell networks for communication within the country, with an estimated 3 million subscribers.
South Korean officials estimate that there are about 6 million mobile phones in North Korea, a country of 25 million people.
Analysts say there are signs that the government is slowly allowing more communications technology, even if it remains restricted to networks within North Korea.
According to a report on Dec. 3 by the 38 North website, which monitors North Korea, state media recently broadcast reports of the first outdoor Wi-Fi network in downtown Pyongyang.
Defectors who have left North Korea report that many people secretly watch foreign media, especially South Korean entertainment.
Several North Korea security agencies police communications devices, often randomly inspecting computers, phones, and other devices for banned foreign media or the capability to receive international signals, the U.S. State Department said in a report on censorship and human rights in North Korea released last week.
“North Koreans caught with illicit entertainment items such as DVDs, CDs, and USBs are at a minimum sent to prison camps and, in extreme cases, may face public execution,” the State Department said in the report.
Some North Koreans living along the border with China have turned to smuggled Chinese devices to make international calls, but human rights activists say North Koreans caught with illicit phones risk being sent to prison camps.
(Reporting by Josh Smith)