Access is severely limited and visits by foreign reporters are usually tightly controlled by government officials.
So, what options do international journalists have, if they want an insight into life in the totalitarian communist state?
Well, a good starting point would be to seek out the many North Korean defectors now living in Seoul and systematically interview them, said the author of "Escape from Camp 14", a book about one man's escape from a North Korean prison camp.
"They're hanging around in Greater Seoul by the tens of thousands now and journalists can talk to them," former Washington Post correspondent, Blaine Harden, told a recent audience at London's Frontline Club.
However, he acknowledged the process of building trust with individuals – who had from an early age been taught to spy on their parents, neighbours and friends – could be difficult and lengthy. Many of them are clinically paranoid, according to the psychologists and psychiatrists who see them on arrival in South Korea, Harden said.
Approached by Western journalists, many North Korean defectors are evasive and scared, and so it "takes forever" to get interviews, Harden said.
"It is just really, really difficult and it does not produce a day's story, it does not produce a week's story, sometimes you don't get anything for a very long time," Harden said.
It is worth persevering though.
"They're the only people who really know what's going on in North Korea," Harden said. "Everything that the government says is a lie. Every image they portray is a lie. And they almost never allow a single Western journalist to get out of this chamber of false images and false lies, some of which are actually quite seductive to look at - goose-stepping people ... and even the funny look of the leaders is interesting and amusing and it passes for journalism.
"But real journalism, I think, is talking to these 23,000-24,000 (defectors) ... the cup is replenished every year with newcomers.
"The ore is there to mine for those who have the patience and the stomach for it." Watch the interview and debate on video here.