Interview: Ha Tae Kyung on potential for government-backed civilian broadcasts to NK

The following is a transcript of Unification Media Group’s recent interview (video available in Korean above) with Saenuri Party lawmaker Ha Tae Kyung.

Unification Media Group [UMG]: The recent high-level inter-Korean talks
have highlighted the importance of civilian broadcasts into North Korea. As
someone who used to head Open Radio for North Korea, it must carry more meaning
for you. What role do you think these broadcasts have?

Rep. Ha Tae Kyung: Simply put, I think we
can call it a ‘bridge for unification’. If we want to see reunification, we
need these broadcasts, but I’ve never seen anyone from the current
administration leading unification policies discuss the importance of these
broadcasts. To me, it seems like they don’t feel desperate enough about

I think if you’re serious about it, you
can’t leave out these broadcasts. The reason for that is because in order to
reunify, you need to know each other well. North Koreans don’t know much about
us, so we need to tell them more. The most effective method is using radio
messages. Despite this, not one person — not the unification minister, not the
presidential office — has said ‘we need these broadcasts, and they play a very
important role’.

-Some have said these broadcasts have given
the South an upper hand, and that it should use them as leverage to draw
Pyongyang out to the negotiating table.

Radio broadcasts are essential for
reunification. Broadcasts and media are important as part of our policies for
North Korea, and we were able to use this as a policy tool during the landmine
incident, forcing Pyongyang to take a step back. We need these kinds of policy
tools. In the past, we mostly relied on diplomatic and economic sanctions to
get Pyongyang to give in, apologize, or make concessions. Diplomatic tools
refer to severing ties, and economic sanctions refer to putting restrictions on
countries that North Korea conducts trade with.

One of the prime examples would be the May
24 sanctions. After the Cheonan attack back on March 26th, 2010, Seoul rolled
out the May sanctions. The UN issued sanctions on the North after it carried
out nuclear tests, and Seoul did the same when it carried out the Cheonan attack.
Each time, the North never apologized, nor did it come to the negotiating
table. But this time, not a week had passed since Seoul started up its
loudspeakers, and Pyongyang made concessions.

It’s pretty obvious what this means.
Diplomatic, economic sanctions don’t have effects, but broadcasts do, so it’s
time to shift the paradigm toward media campaigns into the North. That’s what
I’m urging the government to do now: shift the paradigm. I intend to continue
urging the government to completely change the direction of its policies from
the diplomatic and economic front to the media front. Next month, when
parliament holds its interpellation session, I plan on addressing this issue
and persuading the unification minister, the prime minister, and defense minister.

-I believe radio broadcasts and other media
play a large role in changing the North Korean people and the system. Do you
think delivering information to the North can become a cause of change in the

In terms of effects, the easiest comparison
would start with the loudspeakers on the border. If the South were to broadcast via loudspeakers all along the border, it would reach roughly 600,000 North Korean troops on the
border. But if we were to make that radio broadcasts, I believe roughly 10 percent of the
population, so two to three million people, would have access. 

We’ve conducted
multiple surveys on North Korean defectors, or those residing in China, and
results show that 10 percent would be able to tune into radio broadcasts. If we
were to go one step further and offer TV services, because 70 to 80 percent of
the population has a TV at home, the impact would be even greater.

-So loudspeakers are only effective near
the demilitarized zone, whereas, radio broadcasts would be available for North
Koreans across the country. This is why people argue that civilian broadcasts
are more important tools in changing the North rather than loudspeaker

If you’re talking about the impact, radio
is better than loudspeakers, and television is better than radio, so these parts
need to be well reflected when drawing up policies.

-The sad reality is, there is not enough
interest and shared interest in the importance of these radio broadcasts.
There’s not enough government support, and the public is not very interested,
so what kind of measures do you think we can use to rally up more government
support and interest?

The South Korean government is doing a very
bad job when it comes to this field. Other foreign governments are actually
more active. In the U.S., the government provides support through the Voice of
America and Radio Free Asia, and it even uses AM frequency waves from the
South. BBC is also planning a daily news program to broadcast into the
North, backed by the British government.

In the South, civilian broadcasters
including Unification Media Group, have been going at this for ten years, using
foreign-based transmission stations and all without support from the
government, which turns a blind eye to this area. From a broadcaster’s point of
view, the most important thing is to get the right channel, the right frequency
that people can easily access. This is something that the government can assist
with. It’s not too late for the government to now start actively reviewing how
it can help these civilian broadcasters.

-You submitted a revised broadcast bill
recently.. What’s the key issue that you’re looking to have amended?

What the National Assembly does is create
laws that can be enforced when the government is not doing what it should be
doing. Under current laws, the government can, if it wants, provide support
with frequencies. But the bill that I’ve proposed is a ‘Unification Broadcast
Bill’ that mandates support for radio broadcasts into the North, and it
requires that the government select a broadcaster and support it with a
frequency wave. There is also another bill submitted by Rep. Kim Eul Dong
recently. It proposes to allow financial support to create programs, so the two
of these bills were proposed together.

-So it mainly deals with support for radio
broadcasts into the North. What kind of results do you hope to see?

The main impact would be making the importance
of these broadcasts an issue for discussion. Through media, the South Korean
public will also think about the importance of these civilian operations, and
it especially gives us different opportunities to urge the government to
support civilian broadcasters.

-One of the most important things in
proactively using media policies toward the North would be winning over support
for medium-wave radio frequencies. If the bills are voted into law, do you
think this would be a possibility?

I imagine a lot of people are probably not
so familiar with radio frequencies. There are largely three types: FM, AM, and
shortwave. FM is what most people in the South listen to, and it’s known for
not being able to travel long distances. If you listen to an FM frequency in
Seoul, by the time you get to Cheonan, the frequency will already have changed.
So that means FM will not only fail to reach near the border area, it will not
be able to be delivered across the North.

On the other hand, AM travels far. So if we
were to broadcast in AM, North Koreans would be able to listen to it as well.
The thing with shortwave is that it can reach the entire area in the North, but
the frequency is unstable, and the quality is bad so there will be times when
you can hear, and others when you can’t. In other words, AM is the best option.
If you look at the frequencies in the South, because FM is used the most,
there’s a lot of free room in AM frequencies. There’s a much higher possibility
AM would be used for North Korean broadcasts, and that’s why I’m also saying we
should allocate AM frequencies to civilian broadcasters. If the bill goes
through, it of course increases the chances of this happening.

-Some are worried about offering support for
frequencies, saying that it could aggravate the North and worsen inter-Korean
relations. How likely is it that the bill will pass?

Whenever we try to do something, there’s
always someone who says we shouldn’t because it will upset the North Korean
leadership. If you approach things that way, you won’t be able to get anything
done. For example, if we tell the North not to conduct nuclear tests, that’s
going to provoke the North a lot. But for that reason, are we to tell them to
carry out nuclear tests? It’s the same when it comes to condemning them for
human rights violations.

The important thing is in order for us to
reunify, the North needs to not carry out nuclear tests, improve its human
rights, and for the two Koreas to know each other better through broadcasts.
The North will likely launch complaints against it, but we need to just see
things through.

So far, we haven’t seen North Korea
strongly complain about radio broadcasts. The messages are still being streamed
in. Pirate radio operations are much less provocative than loudspeaker operations.
So they’re much more effective in conveying information but less provocative.
This is why the opposition party also believes there will be relatively less
resistance from the North.

If the government shows some proactive
moves, I think there’s more than enough chance of it winning approval in
parliament. What’s more important is for the North to not see this as something
to complain about. They should instead launch their own pirate radio broadcasts
into the South and make this a mutual operation. Then it would have nothing to
complain about.

-What kind of efforts do you need to see on
the ground to get this bill through?

What the National Assembly fears the most
is public sentiment. If members of the public would come to recognize the importance
of these operations and understand that they’re essential, then lawmakers will
pass the bill. What the civilian radio broadcasters can do is create more
awareness, since a lot of people don’t even know that these operations exist.
Broadcasters need to visit lawmakers, explain what they do, and carry out a
variety of campaigns.

-Some say strengthening these operations is
the same as getting ready for unification. This is because they believe it’s
the way to reduce the differences between South and North Koreans.

Broadcast is something that brings not only
people from the South and North but the entire world together. One simple
example would be Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” The Korean cultural wave ‘Hallyu’ is
the same. It’s broadcast worldwide, and people in Korea, the U.S., and China
sing the same song and dance.

The two Koreas are no different. Songs and
dances that those in their teens and 20s like in the South are loved by those
in the North as well. The problem is that there are North Koreans who cannot
watch and cannot listen to this content. Some may have access, but they have to
watch it through CDs or DVDs smuggled through the border.

What we need to do is make sure that
everyone can have access by delivering it through strong radio frequencies.
This will help bring the cultures together. By sharing the same culture, we can
overcome one of the biggest challenges in unification: cultural discrepancies.
What will allow us to get over this is the broadcasts that go into the North.
They will play an immensely important role.

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