BBG Watch Media

North Korea and Eritrea – Comparison of Voice of America and BBC news reporting from closed societies

Both North Korea and Eritrea are secretive and isolated nations ruled by repressive regimes. How do the Voice of America and the BBC handle news reporting from closed societies if their reporters are allowed rare or exclusive access?

Just recently, for the first time in a decade, the BBC was allowed to film inside Eritrea, but its journalists were accompanied by government minders at all times.

Since a Voice of America (VOA) reporter had visited North Korea in 2011, and BBC has just posted video reports from Eritrea, we though it would instructive to compare VOA and BBC news reports from the two countries. Each country is ruled by a repressive regime known for massive human rights abuses.

In addition to reporting on political executions and numerous other human rights violations, Western journalists had also reported earlier on mass starvation in North Korea. Neither country has anything approaching free press. Independent journalists languish in prisons in Eritrea. No one knows exactly how many political prisoners are held in North Korea or how many are still executed each year for being caught criticizing the North Korean regime.

The BBC video reports from Eritrea can be seen by clicking on the two links below. VOA videos are considered to be in the public domain if they contain only VOA-generated content created by U.S. federal government employees or contractors paid by U.S. taxpayers. [Our site does not offer any legal advice; consult professionals about such issues.]

View the BBC news reports from Eritrea, then compare them to the VOA video report from North Korea and the VOA press release. You may also want to consult VOA CHARTER AND VOA JOURNALISTIC CODE.

Let us know what you think after comparing BBC and VOA video news reports.

For general comparison purposes, we also included a Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) video news report from the Russian city of Sochi. Russia is not yet a closed society like North Korea or Eritrea, but its independent journalists and democratic opposition leaders are being killed. RFE/RL still has a permanent new bureau in Moscow and employs dozens of journalists inside Russia. They are believed to be closely watched by the Russian authorities.

To research VOA English News reports about Russia, we suggest: Gallup Poll Shows Wide Political Split in Ukraine and NATO Leaders Meet Amid Array of Crises. While, Russia is still not in the same category of internal repressiveness as North Korea or Eritrea, one can still assess Russia reporting for accuracy, balance and comprehensiveness.

JUST ASKING: If you were a citizen of North Korea, Eritrea or Russia, which news organization would you trust to provide accurate, balanced, comprehensive and unbiased news about political events and issues in your country your own government does not want you to know about?




Inside Eritrea: BBC crew gets rare access to secretive nation


Why Eritrea bans private media

12 March 2015
Despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, Eritrea is on track to achieve three UN targets aimed at eradicating poverty.
But it is also one of the world’s most secretive and isolated states, and the United Nations says forced labour and imprisonment without trial are common.
For the first time in a decade the BBC were allowed to film inside the country, but were accompanied by government minders at all times.
Yalda Hakim reports from Eritrea.
The full documentary Inside Eritrea will be broadcast on BBC World’s “Our World” programme on Saturday 14 March 2015.


For comparison, we repost the 2011 VOA news video report from North Korea together with a VOA press release.



Link to the Voice of America video posted on YouTube.
There was also a VOA correspondent report from Pyongyang which may have been later modified.

The Voice of America video shows well-fed children and ends with a saleswoman dancing for the VOA reporter in a modern-looking and well-stocked store in Pyongyang.



VOICE OF AMERICA PRESS RELEASE [One of the original press releases showed a photo of a North Korean shop which was also featured in the VOA video. The photo, which was included in the original Voice of America press release, is no longer loading from the VOA server.]




VOA Reporter Gets Rare Glimpse of Life in North Korea

Officials appeared to be conveying a message that they want to improve strained relations with the United States.

A man reads the Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's official newspaper in Pyongyang.
A man reads the Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s official newspaper in Pyongyang.
Kyle King
September 27, 2011

Voice of America journalist Sungwon Baik, who just completed a rare reporting assignment to North Korea, says officials there appeared to be conveying a message that they want to improve strained relations with the United States.
Baik was granted access to North Korea earlier this month, after receiving an unprecedented written invitation by North Korean officials, to cover the 17th International Taekwon-Do World Championships in Pyongyang from September 6th through the 12th.
North Korean officials at the event said on a number of occasions that they were familiar with VOA broadcasts and that the news programs are well recognized.  “The first time I thought they were just trying to be polite to me,” Baik said, “but then it was like 6 or 7 times a day they would say that VOA is very important and you can come back.”
In addition to his reporting on the taekwon-do championships, Baik was allowed to walk around Pyongyang and ride the subway, but always accompanied by an official.  He describes the city (click here) as vibrant and busy with activity.
Baik, whose reports aired live on the VOA Korean Service during the taekwon-do competition, interviewed a North Korean member of the International Olympic Committee, Chang Ung, who expressed hope the event would be a turning point in relations with the United States and could pave the way for future cultural and sports exchanges.
For more information about this release or to arrange an interview with Sungwon Baik, contact Kyle King in Washington at  Visit for more information in English or in any of our language services.





A Costly Legacy For Sochi One Year After Olympics


Link to RFE/RL Video
The 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi cost tens of billions of dollars. But for those who live and work in the Black Sea resort, there are other, hidden costs. One year after the Games, migrant laborers are still fighting for the back wages, as residents take stock of the damage to Sochi’s surroundings. (Produced by Andrei Korolev for RFE/RL’s Current Time TV program)




Gallup Poll Shows Wide Political Split in Ukraine


NATO Leaders Meet Amid Array of Crises