To maximize effect, pirate radio should follow West German example by aiming for hearts and minds

[Media's role in uniting Germany and lessons for the Koreas ]
Lee Sang Yong  |  2016-01-08 15:30

Since being first published in 2004 with the goal of realizing human rights and democratic ideals in North Korea, the Daily NK has striven to report accurate, timely news from within the country. These efforts, while undeniably beneficial, also presented limitations in effecting broader change for both Koreas.

And, so, Daily NK teamed up with two citizen-driven radio stations to form Unification Media Group, a consortium that has been transmitting daily broadcasts into North Korea since November of last year.

In order to change North Korean thinking and instigate said changes, its necessary to have open lines of communication. In pursuit of this goal, the radio broadcast service to North Korea was conceived. To mark Unification Media Group's one year anniversary, we will shine a light on the role that cross-country radio played for the democratization and unification of Germany. In October, Daily NK staff traveled to Germany to learn about what effect the media had there. Six special articles highlight the lessons gained from that trip.

RIAS broadcasts East Germanys first free election live from the defunct East German
 National Assembly building of the former communist regime located in East Berlin on
March 18, 1990. Image: Provided by RIAS

During their separation, West Germany sent radio broadcasts into East Germany. These broadcasts did not try to glamorize the lives of people in the Western World. Instead, they attempted to shine a light on the positive and negative aspects of the international community that Easterners had been cut off from. In this way, Western Germany acted as a faithful messenger in delivering information about the true state of the world across the fortified border, said Patrick Garber, editor of Deutschland Radio and a former reporter for RIAS, or the Broadcasting Service in the American Sector, founded in 1946. 

In order to stimulate the weakening of the Communist Regime in East Germany, West Germany enacted the policy of delivering truthful and reliable news to the information-starved residents in the East. 

Editor Garber continued, We really tried to emphasize the importance of delivering information in stark terms with no exaggeration. RIAS editor-in-chief and Deutschewelle reporter Hans Jürgen Pickert added, We tried our best to resist engaging in counter propaganda. Even when relaying stories about the East German government, we tried not to do so in a way that was not outwardly and directly provocative. Instead, we pursued a neutral, objective, and honest style of reporting.  

For this reason, the German media experts advised that overtly anti-communist broadcasts are unlikely to have an impact in changing the hearts and minds of ordinary North Koreans. 

When asked about this, Detlef Kühn, the former director of Sachsen Radio and former president of the All German Institute, had the following to say: The North Koreans themselves are directly experiencing the results of the regimes policies. If the civilian broadcasts into North Korea focus on how South Korea has changed and is continuing to change, then the North Koreans will be able to make up their own minds about the regime. This is the single easiest way to increase their trust and confidence in the reliability of South Korean news radio. 

Breaking Down the Propaganda 

Additionally, as Western Radio broadcasts transmitted objective information, the East Germans become more and more able to have epiphanies about the true nature of the communist regime. After continuously getting outside information, East Germans were able to compare and critically examine the propaganda released through East Germanys strictly controlled media outlets.

In particular, there was one broadcast concerning a 1953 labor strike in East Berlin. In contrast with the heavily censored Eastern media, RIAS offered detailed reports about the strike. As a result, Easterners realized that the government pronouncement that Our country is the idea land for laborers, was a complete falsehood. 

Former RIAS reporter Hans Jürgen Pickert added, RIAS broadcast very straightforward coverage of the protests, including the slogans of the strikers. In this way, the strike spread from East Berlin out into the other regions. If RIAS did not exist, then the protests and the sentiment supporting them would not have had the same opportunities to spread around East Germany as they did. I believe this had an effect on the development of German history. Because of the information brought to residents through RIAS, people from all over the country were able to participate in the protests.    

Pickert continued, A guest with knowledge of communist systems came on a broadcast and said that, the reality of East Germany is quite different from the writings of Marx and Lenin. In the same way, broadcasts on the Korean peninsula have the power to expose the chasm between North Koreas state ideology and the true condition of the country. 

A booklet describing the radio program Die Insulaner, which was a big hit in both East
and West Germany. Image: Daily NK

Broadcasts must foster a sense of belonging 

In addition to providing simple information, West German broadcasts also attempted to shed light on the lives of people in the Western world. About this, Editor Garber said, We tried our best to communicate what our culture was like. How does a hamburger taste? What pop songs are famous? These sorts of feelings and experiences. 

By providing programs that included games, music, quizzes, and other light entertainment, the broadcasts were able to capture the attention or East and West Germans alike. "We organized a satirical news program and also gave Easterners an opportunity to hear what a Western advertisement sounds like," he explained.

Pickert said, An archetypal example is the satirical program called Die Insulaner. Die Insulaner means People on the island.[This island refers to West-Berlin, which was surrounded by GDR (East-Germany) during Germanys separation.] In this program, East German bureaucrats were presented as ridiculous buffoons. Although it was also aimed at a West German audience, the show became immensely popular in the East, where it provided some cathartic relief.

West German radio producers and writers took special precautions to prevent their East German listeners from developing an inferiority complex. Emphasis was placed on respecting East Germans and speaking to them on even terms.   

Because of this, the experts urged South Korean broadcasters to attempt to earn the trust of their North Korean listeners and inspire them to contemplate unification by building off of the German example. 

Editor Garber remarked, Its important to give the listeners a sense of belonging and ownership of the broadcasts. Deliberate effort must be made to avoid bending the truth or causing Northern listeners to feel inferior. 

I hope that the South Korea-to-North Korea broadcasts could go beyond the political content to really foster a sense of shared identity and unity. To truly accomplish unification, we need to emphasize the human element by considering how North Koreans think and feel in order to show them that they are not being left behind," he added.

Ki Woong Sohn is the senior researcher of Korea Institute for National Unification. He said, If you carefully inspect the role of German media in the unification process, it becomes apparent what a big contribution we can make with radio broadcasts to North Korea. This is especially true considering how much more difficult it is to conduct people-to-people exchanges on the Korean Peninsula compared to East and West Germany during the Cold War. The broadcasts provide North Korean people with an indirect way to experience our country and our culture.

The headquarters of Deutschland Radio in Berlin. It was created in 1994 after West
 Germanys Deutschlandfunk and Rias were merged with East Germanys Rundfunk
 Day der DDR. Image: Daily NK.

*This article has been brought to you thanks to support from the Korea Press Foundation. 

*Translated by Jonathan Corrado

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