New 3G network allows for rare glimpse into North Korea
Christina Commisso-Georgee, CTVNews.ca
Published Saturday, March 2, 2013 12:32PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, March 2, 2013 1:36PM EST
Astonishing photographs are shedding new light on one of the world’s most reclusive countries.
North Korea recently gave foreigners access to its new 3G network, allowing visitors to capture and transmit candid glimpses into daily life in the highly-isolated country.
Though locals continue to have restricted access to the World Wide Web, foreign journalists wasted no time in sending some of the first tweets from inside the country.
Associated Press photographer David Guttenfelder says the surprise move could help break down barriers between North Korea and the rest of the world.
“It sounds simple to show commuting to work in the morning in a photograph, or a family walking together in the park, or covering general news,” Guttenfelder told CTV News Channel on Saturday. “It sounds kind of simple, but it has a great resonance because I think we don’t know anything about (the country).”
Until January, foreigners were forced to leave their phones at the border and buy local phones using SIM cards from Koryolink. The joint Egyptian-North Korean cellphone venture had established a 3G network in 2008, but without data connections.
In February, Guttenfelder shot one of the first images inside North Korea that was uploaded to Instagram with the geotag “Pyongyang.”
Guttenfelder, AP’s chief Asia photographer, said during a 2011 trip to North Korea to cover the death of the country’s former supreme leader Kim Jong-il he was not allowed to take any photographs without permission from the appropriate authorities.
“On that trip we were not allowed to take pictures from the window of the bus as we travelled,” he recalled. “Black plastic was covering the windows of my hotel room."
This year was different.
“So fast forward…I’m standing in the middle of Pyongyang, taking pictures with my iPhone and posting them to Instagram and tweeting. Things have changed a lot.”
By mid-February photos of school children, maternity wards and traffic officers in North Korea began making their way to social media.
Because the Web remains strictly off-limits for most North Koreans, citizens have little idea about what’s going on in the outside world, Guttenfelder said.
“I think that what’s most important about this is probably just that it’s a chance to open a small crack in the window,” he said. “It starts to break down barrier and starts to have an effect on their country and our country.”