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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
The website of North Korea’s primary state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun ceased offering a downloadable PDF version of its daily newspaper late on Sunday.
Previously free to view page-by-page through a button on the Rodong’s homepage, the option was gone by Monday morning, following NK News confirmation of the Sunday edition’s availability early on December 23.
Article text is still being uploaded to the Rodong website as of December 25, however, and state broadcaster Korea Central Television (KCTV) still carried its customary walkthrough of the Monday edition to round out the day’s 5pm daily news.
But this is not the first change Rodong has made to its PDF distribution service, as smaller files with lower resolution and sometimes blurry text began to replace higher quality images uploaded to the site in early February 2016.
Those still seeking higher-resolution PDF files for the country’s mainstay newspaper will now have to look elsewhere, with one remaining option being to apply for membership of a subscription service operated by North Korean media partners in Japan.
One affiliate of the Rodong and state outlet Korea Central News Agency (KCNA), the Tokyo-based “Korea Media,” offers members “real-time” access to over a dozen North Korean newspapers and other publications, including daily PDF files of the Rodong Sinmun.
Korea Media’s homepage, now merely an “under renewal” landing page, described its operation as recently as April 2018 as one made in partnership with North Korean media organizations, created to “introduce and sell various books, newspapers, magazines, photos and videos to the world.”
While a page explaining the service on another Korea Media site, “KPM,” currently says the service is free to institutions who sign contracts with the organization, it also explains that payment is necessary for media companies wishing to redistribute any content offered through the service.
Current pricing for article redistribution is not listed, but the price for reprinting images ranges from USD$60 to $200.
NK News sister-site KCNA Watch previously redistributed PDFs from the Rodong website for free, allowing users to download the PDFs without accessing North Korea’s official newspaper website, which is often offline or slow to use.
The Rodong decision to take down the freely-available PDF could, therefore, be seen as an effort to take more control over where and how readers obtain high-quality versions of the Rodong newspaper.
But as North Korea continues to feel the pressure from ongoing efforts by the U.S. to press UN member states for strict sanctions enforcement, the move could also be seen as a way to earn money for media content produced by the state and already widely consumed by an international audience.
Korea Media, on a previous version of its site, named their Director Lee Sang Ho (李相鎬 in Japanese), and listed their bank as Mitsubishi Tokyo UFJ Bank.
The organization moved its offices to Shinjuku in downtown Tokyo in June 2015, the site also says, having previously been located in the nearby Hakusan district within the offices of the [North] Korea Publishing House (조선출판회관).
Korea Media first started offering Rodong PDF files of the Rodong Sinmun online in November 2011.