An undercover journalist risked his life to shoot the footage of starving, soot-covered children begging for food in North Korea published Monday by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The journalist somehow managed to smuggle the video across the border into the hands of Jiro Ishimaru, the editor of Rimjin-Gang, a magazine devoted to publishing first-hand accounts of life in North Korea produced by North Koreans. Also known as ASIAPRESS, Rimjin-Gang releases a few of videos every year, but in the magazine's 13-year history, editors have only been able to compile about 100 hours of footage from within the secretive nation's borders. Presumably to protect the identity of its journalists, Rimjin-Gang allowed ABC to host their latest video for only 24-hours. We found a working version:
North Korea is nearing a hunger epidemic. The aging Kim Jong-Il is working to facilitate a smooth transition of power to his song Kim Jong-Un, but based on the ABC/Rimjin-Gang footage, even the army is now going hungry. "[Kim Jong-Il's regime] used to put the military first, but now it can't even supply food to its soldiers," Ishimaru told ABC. "Rice is being sold in markets but they are starving. This is the most significant thing in this video."
Like many, we were immediately curious how Rimjin-Gang manages to operate. The news organization is surprisingly upfront online about actively and illegally seeking information from within North Korea. However, according to their own account, a team of editors and multiple correspondents work fearlessly under the mission to expose what life is like on the other side of the 38th parallel. “Even if we are eventually caught, I believe that we will not regret what we’ve done," writes lead reporter Lee Jun. "No matter how much I think about it, we are working for justice.”
For the latest video, Jiro Ishimaru personally travelled to the Chinese/North Korean border to meet an undercover reporter. He calls the famine he heard about there "the worst since the late 90s," when as many as two million North Koreans died." Ishimaru writes:
I visited the North Korea-China border zone in May, at the same time Kim Jong-il was visiting China. While there, I got in contact with Kim Dong-cheol, one of the Rimjin-gang reporters who continue to make undercover reports from inside North Korea. Kim, who lives in North Pyongan Province, secretly crossed the Tumen River to come and see me. He had made undercover videos in different places in North Korea between January and April. The footage showed a harsh reality. Many children wandering, begging in the market. Many had lost parents, or been abandoned.
If you're an American journalist thinking of trying this method yourself, don't. Given the apparent slipping of control, it's a top priority for the North Korean regime to show the semblance of prosperity to outside nations. In fact, Laura Ling and Euna Lee of Current TV hoped to catch a glimpse of the real story when they illegally crossed into North Korea in 2009, and after being caught by border patrols, were sentenced to 12 years hard labor for their "hostile acts against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea." Only after Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang and pleaded for the journalists' amnesty did Kim Jong-Il pardon the two.
On a very well-funded venture aided immensely by their Canadian passports, the founders of the culture magazine Vice actually managed to make it in and out of Pyongyang with a camera in 2008. Though less brutal than the footage recovered by Rimjin-Gang, the depiction of life in North Korea is haunting:
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.