The country's state-controlled media is telling Web-surfers they could have it much worse -- but the users aren't buying it.
Last week, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt urged North Korean leaders to embrace the Internet. Only a small proportion of that country's 24 million people can access the World Wide Web, and the majority of the 1.5 million mobile phones there belong to political and military elites.
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Meanwhile, in China, a country that has embraced the Internet to a much greater extent, the big story was about censorship, both online and off. Reporters and local citizens protested propaganda authorities' decision to re-write newspaper Southern Weekly's planned New Years editorial on constitutionalism. Discussions about the topic were deleted on China's microblogs and online forums. As a result, images and wordplay in support of Southern Weekly filled the blogosphere.
In the midst of the hubbub, China Central Television (CCTV), the state-controlled behemoth, filed a report about the state of Internet freedom in North Korea on January 10, and tweeted a summary on Sina Weibo, the leading microblog service provider:
Things that we consider trivial and normal like going online, sending emails, and downloading software on an iPad are considered 'privileges' in North Korea. Only a few people are permitted to visit foreign websites because of the needs of their work, and the majority of people can only visit domestic websites. Sending and receiving emails requires an even more complex set of approvals. Even PC tablet devices, which quickly sold out [in North Korea], do not have online capability and cannot download software.
For Chinese social media users, the irony here was too perfect to go unnoticed. @孤翔2012 responded: "In China, too, only the privileged can visit Facebook. Don't be the 'pot calling the kettle black.'" In a similar vein, @拉风特产 commented: "Why are we criticizing others when we should be examining ourselves? How many famous global websites are we able to visit? It is embarrassing to say."