30-40% of NK thought to be tuning into pirate radio: how do we reach more?

From left to right: Lee Kwang Baek, Unification Media Group President; Gwak Jeong
Rae, Seoul National University, Ph.D, Institute of Communication Research ; Park Sang
Bong, currently representing the German Communications Research Center, formerly
 head of the Institute for Unification Education; Kim Cheol Su, born in Pyongsong,
 South Pyongan Province and defected to South Korea last year. Image: Daily NK

“If you listen carefully to children
humming in North Korea, you will realize they are not humming North Korean
songs, but rather songs played via South Korean broadcasts targeting North Korea. Children
also know that Kim Jong Un weighs more than 100kg. It’s because they are
repeating what they hear from their parents, who listen to these foreign programs; I
think at least 30-40% of North Koreans are listening to pirate radio.”

Kim Cheol Su, who was born in Pyongsong City, South Pyongan
Province and defected from North Korea last year, testified
that listening to the broadcasts made him realize the true nature of Kim Jong
Un’s dictatorship. Amidst growing curiosity regarding the sensitive response by
the North Korean authorities to the propaganda broadcasts at the DMZ, the Daily NK, together
with Dailian News, hosted an expert roundtable to discuss the effects of the
propaganda broadcasts and the search for stronger measures that could be taken.

On the day of the roundtable, Mr. Kim said
that the majority of North Korean citizens, thirsting for news of the outside
world, listen to the propaganda broadcasts, which fan the flames of their doubt
about Kim Jong Un’s regime. The majority of those who yearn for and decide to
flee to the South do so after hearing the broadcasts.

He explained, “Before listening to the
broadcasts, the citizens have no idea. But after they hear them, they realize
the fact that the regime is deceiving the people. They share what they have
heard with their neighbors and friends. The most startling thing to learn was
that the UN Secretary-General is a Korean- just that fact alone shocks everyone
who hears it. Most defectors who come to the South after hearing the broadcasts
in North Korea say that hearing the broadcasts inspired animosity in them
towards the regime, after which they began to listen to the radio. They
began to feel hatred towards life in North Korea itself.”

Mr. Kim also highlighted the fact that he
heard about the Arab Spring movement through the broadcasts, and learned of the
death of Gaddafi. “In North Korea, many people listen to the radio. If
the UN were to guarantee for us, as they did for Libya, help in opposing the
regime, I believe that we would revolt as well. Right now there are regulations
on guns and knives, but honestly the State Security Department (SSD) and
Ministry of State Security (MPS) are in the same boat that we are. My friend is
an MPS officer, but he collects South Korean DVDs and CDs and watches them in
secret. These days, that’s how it is among the North Korean elite,” he asserted.

As far as listening to the radio in the
North, Mr. Kim told us that although frequencies can of course travel
everywhere, the problem is that sometimes, the authorities jam the signals,
which makes it very hard to listen. A lot of people listen to Radio Free Asia,
as it comes in the clearest.

“Personally, there were some
programs I liked on Open Radio for North Korea, so I used to tune in to those
as well. However, short, one-hour programs were easy to miss. They were often
finished by the time I found the frequency they were on, because it takes about
an hour to find the correct frequency. If you want to broadcast to North Korea,
the broadcasts should be at least 3- 4 hours in length so that people have a
chance to hear them,” he noted.

As for the contents of the broadcasts, Mr.
Kim recommends having defectors talk freely about their lives. For North Korean
citizens enduring chronic electricity shortages, just the fact that electricity
is on here 365 days a year will be shocking. 

“When I came to the South, I was
surprised that gas, water, lights, and electricity never shut off, and that I didn’t
have to worry about what I was going to eat or wear all the time. I’ve been
here for a year now, and am still amazed that the utilities haven’t cut off
once. I didn’t even think this kind of life was possible. This little thing,
talking about how for one year the lights haven’t flickered for just a second,
North Koreans will never believe it. If people in the South can just mention
this, it will be a big shock,” he said, adding that it is also important to
include information on how to defect, and give concrete examples of actual
support and policies that exist for defectors in the South.

Roundtable expert Lee Gwang Baek, who
represents Unification Media Group, also weighed in, saying, “The most important role that the
broadcasts play is to reveal that what the regime says, that North Korea is a
paradise, that the creators of that paradise, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, are
the Supreme Leaders, and that South Korea is a colony under imperialist America
where everyone is starving, is all lies. 
The likelihood of North Korean
traditional values and consciousness changing in response to broadcasts that
detail the realities of life in South Korea is quite high. Social and systemic
change are connected to this change in consciousness, and so this is the role
that the broadcasts targeting North Korean residents should play.”

Gwang Jeong Rae of the Seoul National
University Institute of Communication Research agreed. “It is because the propaganda
broadcasts pose the single largest threat to the North Korean dictatorship that
the authorities work to regulate them so strictly. Information controls in
North Korea are weakening despite the best efforts of the authorities, which is
also why these broadcasts threaten the regime and are linked to an increase in
the number of defectors,” he explained.