Building trust with North Korean radio audience essential to incite democratic changes

“During
the time of division, East German radio and TV featured rosy depictions of life
in the communist state that was quite different from the normal experience of
ordinary residents. To fight back against the propaganda lies of the tightly
controlled state media, we looked for ways to discover the truth.”
 

Through an acquaintance, I received a
request to record the progress of the anti-regime movement in East Germany. I said, of course I can. That’s how we started recording video and audio
for West German broadcasters. We made content that showed what life was really
like in East Germany.”
 

This is the true story of Siegbert Schefke,
a reporter from Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (Central German Broadcasting, MDR) ,
who was a democracy movement protester in East Germany in the era before
unification. At the time, Siegbert Schefke worked with Head of Stasi Records
Agency Roland Jahn to fight against the autocratic East German authorities.
 

Mr. Schefke said, “I was not personally close
with Mr. Jahn. We used a cipher to communicate to one another in secret. We
talked every day at a fixed time. That was the extent of our affiliation. It
was a dangerous undertaking, but I felt it was my duty. We sent video footage
to West Germany which showed the real state of our country. Then the West
Germans made TV programs from the footage and beamed the television signal over
to East Germany so our countrymen could see.” 


A camera and recorder used by democracy advocates to record scenes at the Berlin Palace
of Tears (Tränenpalast), where East Germans said goodbye to visitors who were returning to the
West. Image: Daily NK

In this matter, footage and audio tape of
the democracy movement in East Germany was sent to the West. Programs were
produced in West Germany and broadcast for East Germans to see and hear on TV
and radio. East German residents learned about things that the authorities had
been concealing from them through the broadcasts. The regime’s ability to lie
with impunity was greatly reduced thereafter. The situation is reminiscent of
the radio broadcasts that are sent to contemporary North Korea.
 

This kind of media gave a boost in bravery
and confidence to the East German residents, which eventually culminated in the
1989 “Peaceful Revolution,” and served as the driving force of German
re-unification.  
 

On this topic, Mr. Jahn said, “The TV
programs were responsible for giving the people the bravery they needed to get
out on the streets and demonstrate.  It might be hard for youngsters in
Germany to understand or sympathize with at the moment, but this media was
extremely helpful in ushering in the period of peace by contributing to German
unification.”
 

When asked about South Korean broadcasts to
the North, Jahn said
, “I understand that the regime has a monopoly on
information in the North. In order to open the country up, it is necessary to
work side by side with the North Korean people. Of course, the broadcasts will
help to expose and rupture cracks in the regime, but it will also be necessary
to look for opportunities to make bigger holes in the regime’s grasp on power.” 


Two figures who made outsized contributions to German democracy: Head of Stasi Records
Agency Roland Jahn and Siegbert Schefke, a reporter from Central German Broadcasting Station.
 Image: Daily NK

Persistent
infusions of information can change the system

Through media, the East German democracy
movement was able to spark changes resulting in peaceful unification, but the
process was not always a smooth one. Reporter Schefke was tasked with directly
filming the country’s latest developments, but he did not have the proper
equipment and was constantly forced to go through trial and error to accomplish
his tasks.
 

It was especially important for him to
avoid the crackdowns and censorship of the government. Because the East German
Secret Police (or Stasi) had full knowledge that people like Siegbert Schefke
were undertaking ‘seditious’ activities, he operated under constant threat of
torture or prolonged imprisonment.
 

According to East German criminal law at
the time, Mr. Schefke’s crimes were punishable by up to 12 years of
imprisonment. Many people were caught by the Stasi Police and thrown in jail
for similar offenses. Despite the constant repression and threat of punishment, these democracy advocates did not let their hope and faith in democratic unification die away. 


A Stasi Prison in Dresden. It’s been converted into a museum, with the purpose of informing as many
 visitors as possible about the hardships endured by the democracy protestors. Image: Daily NK

Mr. Jahn said, “The East German authorities
tried in vain to block the trickle down effect of Western media. Countless East
German young people engaged and helped produce these media despite the dangers.
The proof of the value of this media is in the historical evidence.”
 

Mr. Schefke also weighed in, noting, “We didn’t dwell on the
dangerous aspect of our task. We devoted all our energy and worries into
solving the problem of getting outside information into the country. We thought
about disseminating leaflets from the West, about how to get Western radio broadcasts
into the homes of East Germans.”
 

“The resistance
fighting style should definitely depend on the regime at hand. All
dictatorships eventually come to an end. Hitler and Saddam Hussein are but two
examples. Kim Jong Un will someday meet a similar fate. 
By
presenting vivid reports of inside information, it’s possible to gain faith and
kick off democratization in North Korea.”
 

The former East German democracy advocates
advised that producing and broadcasting diverse news about what is going on in
North Korea is the most effective way to develop trust and begin the process of
democratization. Through objectively researched and presented reports, trust
can be developed. After trust is developed, it will be possible to change the
social and political consciousness of North Koreans.  
 

The experts specifically advised the
importance of North Korean defectors, who have experience in both North and
South Korea and can thus naturally serve as bridges between the two societies.
Reports produced by defectors can form momentum leading to change in the North.

“The most effective
method will be to have the defectors recording the radio broadcasts that you
send into the North. If you can get stories about the North and turn them into
news pieces that you send back in, it will be much easier to develop listener
confidence in the broadcast’s credibility,” 
Mr. Schefke said. 

“Because it is so difficult
to distribute leaflets or use cell phones to communicate, radio broadcasts
remain the best way to transmit information. 
It will be helpful to
discuss how defectors are doing with their new lives in South Korea. It will
also be important to use their networks when they arrive. These defectors are
serving in an extremely important role. I hope that they seize upon each and
every opportunity to be a lifeline of information for those still in the
North.”
 

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

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