Kids Helping the Kims, and Kids Pushing Back

The North Korean authorities have tightened up their efforts to stop external media from circulating in the early Kim Jong Eun era, and this has been relatively effective. Nevertheless, some more fortunate young people continue to evade the stricter regulations.

In North
Korea as anywhere else, a USB stick is simple to hide and thus tricky
for the security services to clamp down on consistently. Moreover, unlike a
disc, which cannot be swiftly removed from a DVD player or computer in the event of a
sudden visit from the security services, a USB stick can be removed and
secreted away more or less instantly.

At the
beginning of May, Daily NK met a number of legal North Korean visitors to
Dandong in China to discuss this kind of issue.

A male in
his 40s from South Hwanghae Province explained, “Kids of 15 and 16 have these
things on memory sticks. They watch them, copy them, pass them on, and that is
how South Korean media spreads among the young. Of course they are
taught not to do it, but kids are inquisitive and so they find a way to do it regardless.
Being told not to watch South Chosun films makes some do it all the more.”

The informant went on to claim that the spread
of cellular phones is also spurring the greater spread of foreign music.
However, both he and all Daily NK’s other informants were in agreement that
this state of affairs obtains predominantly for demographics that enjoy
political strength and economic freedom, such as the children of Party

“Do you
think that someone having one meal a day would be buying that kind of thing?” a
female interviewee in her 50s snorted. “Most people cannot [and do not] watch
that stuff; it is the cadres and their kids who do. The people who live a little
better than most.”

to the woman, a USB stick capable of holding a small volume of data (roughly
three episodes of a South Korean television drama, each of which is ordinarily one
hour in length) currently costs 70,000 North Korean won, while larger ones come in at between 100,000 and 150,000 won. “It costs 10,000 won to get hold of a
popular movie, and about 5,000 for ordinary films,” she added.

As Daily NK
reported on June 2nd, and as the informants universally agreed, regulation of access to external information
such as movies, music and drama has been stepped up under the rule of Kim Jong
Eun, and in particular since the conviction and execution of former
Vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission Jang Sung Taek in December
last year.

Severity of punishment varies both by region and whether the place in question is rural or
urban. In some of the worst cases, evidence trickling out of North Korea
reveals that executions have taken place, though this is much rarer than labor reeducation.

“The regulation has gotten much worse since
Jang Sung Taek was executed,” a 40-something source from Hwanghae agreed. “At
times like these, watching South Chosun media means trouble,” a male source
from North Pyongan Province concurred. A woman from Sinuiju confirmed that
ordinary people there generally do not go near South Korean media now, either.

In addition
to “109” and “927” groups, which are tasked with regulating matters concerning South
Korean media, sources also revealed that
Pyongyang recently saw task forces formed from graduating senior
middle school (in effect, high school) students.

“109 Group
means a specialist team made up of people from the Ministry of People’s Security
(MPS), the Party, and the administration that looks for, in particular, discs
of South Korean films, dramas, and music,” a male in his 40s from Hwanghae told
Daily NK. “Getting caught by them is no fun.” A so-called “927 Group” keeps a lid on anti-socialist activities including the sale of
such materials.

“Last year
this ‘task force’ was organized under the district MPS,” a male in his 50s from
Pyongyang recalled. “Those guys were 18 or 19-year old graduates from senior
middle school. They did it all by the book, which made it even more difficult
to deal with.”

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