Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s ex-deputy ambassador in London appeared at a press conference on December 27, in his first public appearance since his defection to South Korea in August. During the conference, he emphasized the importance of disseminating external information amongst the North Korean people, stating his belief that it will serve as a stepping stone to improve human rights in North Korea and facilitate reunification of the two Koreas.
“The Kim Jong Un regime, which appears to be robust on the outside, is actually crumbling inside and facing a serious crisis both internally and externally. In reality, people are praising Kim Jong Un in the daytime and watching South Korean movies under their blankets in the evening. Because North Korean society is being maintained through the deification of its leader, it will collapse on its own when external information introduced through drones and USBs reveals the truth of the Kim family,” Thae stated during the press conference, which was open only to South Korean news agencies.
In 2015, Gallup conducted a survey on 250 North Korean defectors in China and 100 defectors in South Korea. According to the results, 80-90% of the respondents answered that they had seen foreign movies and TV shows in North Korea. The respondents commented that after watching foreign media, they began to distrust the state propaganda about South Korea – for instance, that people there are living harder lives than those in the North. The external information has helped changed people’s understanding of the outside world.
Thae also emphasized the importance of providing information about South Korea to North Korean diplomats and workers dispatched abroad.
“I was checking reports by South Korean media on North Korea and Yonhap News agency’s section for North Korea every day on my smartphone. I read every news story related to defectors who settled in South Korea. I shed tears reading their stories, and [somehow] garnered the courage to defect as a result of them,” Thae said in response to one reporter’s question.
“All North Korean officials and their family members overseas are checking South Korean news every day. By tomorrow, every North Korean diplomat abroad will be aware of what I have said right now.”
He added that “by watching South Korea’s economic miracle and the process of democratization on the internet, I have realized that there is no future for the North Korean regime.”
In June, a North Korean worker who defected to South Korea while on dispatch to Russia visited the office of Unification Media Group (UMG), a media consortium targeting the North Korean people, and stated that he had been listening to UMG radio broadcasts for nearly two years in Russia through his smartphone (via UMG’s website) and came to extend his thanks. He said that he listened to the broadcasts on North Korea to hear news about his hometown.
An analysis of website visits to Unification Media Group’s page reveals that countries with a large number of North Korean diplomats and residents such as China, Russia and Africa, have the largest number of visitors.
The international community, and in particular the US, have already started to increase funding to strengthen media broadcasts into North Korea, recognizing that one of the most effective methods to induce change within North Korea and improve freedom of speech for North Koreans is through the influx of external information.
South Korea, which is geographically closest to North Korea and uses the same language, has the greatest natural advantage in providing information to the North Korean people. The first step toward improving human rights for 24 million North Koreans and achieving reunification after 70 years of division may therefore begin with the provision of external information to North Korean residents.
For this reason, it may be desirable to convert the KBS’ One People Radio (han minjok bangsong), which has the best reception quality in North Korea, into KBS Unification Broadcasting, and allot their high-quality frequencies to civic broadcasting stations targeting North Korea in order to increase the listenership. There should also be moves to disseminate USBs and SD cards containing current news and cultural content amongst North Korean residents.
In September, the North Korean Human Rights Act came into force. Accordingly, the Ministry of Unification and the North Korean Human Rights Foundation (to be established pursuant to the act) must prepare measures to provide greater information to the North Korean people.