Jangmadang generation-centric radio content imperative, say those who once tuned in

Following high-level talks between the two
Koreas (Aug. 25) that resulted in Seoul halting its loudspeaker propaganda
broadcasts over the border into the North, more people have been calling for
nationwide broadcasts that target all North Koreans. This comes with the belief
that Pyongyang’s determination to halt the broadcasts in effect proves that the
messages pose real threats to the North Korean leadership. 

North Korea experts and defectors say it is
important to customize the broadcasts for the different ranks and classes in
North Korea. They argue different messages must be delivered for everyone
ranging from the average resident to military officials and Party cadres that
uphold the system, and the jangmadang [marketplace] generation that tends to
have less loyalty towards the leadership. Since the areas of interest differ
depending on each class, broadcast messages should contain different levels of
‘awareness’ about the North’s leadership and outside world.

What kind of content would maximize
awareness among people?

Based on accounts from defectors who have
tuned into radio broadcasts or have heard messages from loudspeakers, what’s
most popular is social and cultural content involving everyday life such as
dramas, movies, and pop songs. Also, educational content that deals with South
and North economic issues or history are popular as well.

They say these messages are easier to
listen to since they doesn’t blatantly criticize the North Korean regime, while
at the same time helping people get to know more about South Korean society.
Especially, those who get hooked onto social and cultural contents keep on
tuning in and down the line it makes them more aware of what North Korea’s
leadership is truly about.

This is why they say it’s important to
design different broadcasts for different targets. For Party cadres or military
officials, experts said, messages that can show just how futile Pyongyang’s
power structure and policies are will be very effective.

Do Myeong Hak, who heads a group called
Cultural Freedom Unified Korea and escaped the North in the ‘90s after
graduating from Kim Il Sung University, said, “North Korean cadres are like
scarecrows or robots that simply take orders from Kim Jong Un.” He suggested broadcasts
that read excerpts from books like Machiavelli’s “The Prince” or Rousseau’s “The
Social Contract”; Content like this, he explained, will help North Korean listeners realize their
loyalty towards the leadership is for naught. 

“At a time when North Korean state-run
media was broadcasting that the suicide rate is high among South Korean
soldiers, a message explaining the difference between rations and meals of
troops on the South and North trickled into the country via outside broadcasts and this helped
change the perception of the younger jangmadang generation,” Do said. “It was
shocking for many that in the North if soldiers die from being beaten by others
they are actually treated as traitors, but in the South, the story is carried
nationwide and upper ranks are dragged into investigations as well.”  

Park Jong Jin, who was once a military
cadre but escaped the North in 2011, said, “In the North, if you’re in the
military, making the slightest mistake (or falling out of favor with the
leadership) can get you killed, so I had thought ‘a man’s life is no different
from that of a fly.” But he also recalled once hearing a saying from the Bible
that says ‘God loves all men, even those who sin,’ and was very moved by it.

“Unlike propaganda from the North, radio
broadcasts from the South do not criticize without any ground to do so, and I
was surprised to see how it conveyed information straight up to the North and
its people,” Park said. “Listening to the broadcasts, I came to realize that
the information coming from the South was not just propaganda and lies, it was
actually real.”

More efforts needed to cater to
jangmadang generation

Another point of emphasis has been
customizing content for the jangmadang and younger generations to let them know
that the South is not the center of ‘corrupt and vulgar capitalism’ but a place
where everyone can live happily in abundance and be treated equally. For this
purpose, the broadcasts should aim to introduce popular culture that shows how
South Koreans are living in greater comfort thanks to economic development.

“We need to tell them that the South was
poor at one point as well, but thanks to a free democracy and government
efforts towards industrialization, it has become what it is today,” Gyeongsang
National University’s Professor Jeong Eun Lee said. “The jangmadang generation has a lot of interest in
making money, so by providing information like this, they will come to realize
that the economic difficulties people are going through in the North are
because the state directed the country in the wrong direction.”

“As a lot of young people are, the
jangmadang generation in the North is interested in new elements of South
Korea’s culture that they can’t gain access to in the North,” the professor
added. “They need to be able to approach capitalism without bias, and in order
to do so, we need to continue sharing popular culture from the South through
these broadcasts.”

Jeong also said it’s important to highlight
how big the gap between living standards in the South and North is by including
details on everything from the price of everyday products, the way of life, and

Do Myeong Hak from Cultural Freedom Unified
Korea suggested outlining the wage gap between the South and North. “One U.S.
dollar is worth around 8,000 KPW, and one kilogram of rice is about 6,000 KPW,
so people can buy 1.3 kilograms of rice with a dollar. With a South Korean’s
wage of around 2 million KRW (1,700 USD), people can buy over two tons of rice,
which is a huge sum,” Do said. He added this will help North Koreans realize
that their labor holds astronomical value, in spite of workers having been
mistreated all this time.  

“The North claims that ‘freedom’ is simply
a value touted by bourgeoisie who want to do whatever they want, and that it’s
at the heart of the law of the jungle,” Do said. “But freedom means that people
know what their value of existence is and they abide by rules. It’s important
to teach North Koreans what the rule of law is and what exactly freedom and
capitalism mean.”

The President of Unification Media Group,
Lee Kwang Baek, who has been working on radio broadcasts beamed into the North
for nearly a decade, said, “Unlike in the past, when we focused heavily on
human rights and democracy, we need to adapt quickly to rapid changes in the
North and give them information that is useful in daily life.” He added, it’s
important that more broadcasts are created, offering help for those trying to
make a living in the marketplace so they can realize their goals.