More robust cross-border broadcasts could help both Koreas find common ground

When Germany was divided by the Cold War, East Germans watched fellow citizens engage in
democratic protests through the West German TV broadcasts that they tuned in to. The above picture
 shows one East German family’s setup for watching said broadcasts, which is preserved for viewing
at an exhibit in the Leipzig Museum of Modern History.

Cross-German radio broadcasts played an
important role in German unification. In the same regard, South Korean radio
broadcasts can contribute to bringing about Korean unification. There have been
calls, however, for the international community to help support the South
Korean people in this effort. Just as West German broadcasters got plenty of
international support to produce programs beamed over to East Germany, South
Korean efforts need the same kind of assistance.

German media experts have advised that South Korean broadcasters need to consider the age and socioeconomic positions of
their various listeners in order to create customized programs that stimulate a
change in the ideology and outlook of their listeners in North Korea. The
experts also advised that widespread social backing and support will aid in the
production of this sort of content. They also recommended that medium wave
frequency broadcasts be started so that more North Koreans could access the
South Korean radio shows.

In addition, the experts stressed the
importance of reaching North Korean residents through multiple channels. They
pointed out that the effectiveness of cross border megaphone broadcasts and
electronic borders was confirmed by the emergency high-level meetings between
North and South Korea on August 25, 2015. In assessing the transformative power
of the media, it becomes apparent that it will also be important to reach North
Koreans through the use of television and the internet, the experts suggested.   

More support needed for cross- border
broadcasts and content dissemination 

Starting in 1970, West Germany started the
Look East Policy, which kickstarted a limited program of postcard and personal
exchanges. But changing the communist East German system through such methods
alone was viewed as impractical. Therefore, West Germany strove to use
‘assertive means’ to establish a connection with Easterners through TV and
radio broadcasts.  

The result of this was that the West German
government was able to continually support high quality, popular platforms such
as RIAS, Deutschlandfunk, and Deutschewelle, which extended the promise of
freedom to faraway listeners in East Germany. The three broadcasters did not
simply make content for their domestic audience. With the support of the West
German government, they made content that helped foster the ideological
foundations for democracy in East Germany.

According to the experts, RIAS was
initially funded by the American government, but after it won the wholehearted
support of East German listeners, the West German government began funding the
station. Deutschewelle was funded through tax revenue from its inception and
Deutschlandfunk also received public funds until it began receiving
subscription payments from viewers in 1990. The experts agreed that the high
quality and diversity of the cross-border programming was a result of the
direct government support.

Son Gi Woong, a researcher at the Korean
Institute for National Unification, said, “Compared to the German example
wherein person-to-person exchanges were allowed, the role of radio broadcasters
to the North Korean people is even more important. They have very little access
to information about the outside world. Of course, it is also important to
support North-South cooperation on cultural, economic, and social endeavors,
but radio broadcasts into North Korea should be looked at as an essential
component of helping the peninsula prepare for unification.”

Mödlareuth Border Museum Director Robert
Lebegern (pictured right) said, “There is a need to transition from the short wave frequencies
being used now in favor of a more far reaching and clear signal from medium
wave or satellite technology. Because censorship is so strictly imposed
by the regime in North Korea, it won’t be easy, but the radio strategy will
need to be complemented by attempts via TV or internet as well.”

Former Executive General of Bundesstiftung
zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur (Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of
the SED Dictatorship) Anna Kaminsky (pictured left) said, “In Germany, the radio was more
effective than megaphone and electronic boards. But Germany and the Korean
Peninsula are different in this regard. Megaphones and electronic boards might
indeed prove effective since the North Korean regime is so thorough in their
censorship and blockade of outside information.”

 ‘It won’t be easy, but it’s necessary to
try to expand the North-South media exchange’ 

There was a consensus among the experts
that South Korea should follow in Germany’s footsteps by pursuing radio
broadcasts alongside personal exchanges. They argued for the need for “media
exchanges” between the two sides as well. Through such official exchanges, it
would become easier to thoroughly understand the North Korean situation and to
get North Koreans much needed information about the outside world.

Die Zeit reporter Theo Sommer (pictured right) said, “In
1964, East and West Germany started an editorial exchange called ‘Das neue
Deutschland.’ At the insistence of the East German side, this program stopped
after 3 or 4 short weeks. This was because the East German government
recognized what a strong impact the West German editorials were having and
could continue to have on their population.”

Sommer continued, “Even though there aren’t
any exchanges set up, there are currently broadcasts going into North Korea.
However, if exchanges were started, the amount of information reaching the
isolated Northern population would be increased. As long as the cross border
broadcasts do not alternate between joy and fear in reaction to the wavering
North Korean response and stick to the principle of continuing to reach the
North Korean people, the effect of said broadcasts will be pronounced.”

Executive Director Kaminsky added, “In the
West, people were not punished for watching or listening to East German
content. This was just one indicator of the superiority of the West German
system. This also enabled Westerners to understand what was going on inside
East Germany. Even though it is obvious that the South Korean government is
superior to its northern neighbor, the fact that there are restrictions for
accessing Northern media is troublesome. I think that if South Korea moves in
this direction, the frankness and effectiveness of South Korean broadcasts can
be improved.”  

Roland Jahn (pictured left) was Head of the Stasi Records
Agency. He was deported from East Germany on suspicion of democratization
activism in 1983 and then continued to conduct his efforts from the West. He
said, “To this day, the amount of North Koreans who are able to access South
Korean media on a regular basis are in the minority. We also have to admit that
there are restrictions to the amount of info that can be transmitted through
radio broadcasts.

To overcome this, it might be a good idea
to use Europeans who are permitted to enter North Korea in order to facilitate
civil exchanges. “Seeing people from the outside world coming into the reclusive
country could have a silent effect on North Korean people,” he explained.

The experts agreed that efforts like the
aforementioned could play an important role in kick starting the liberation of
information inside North Korea. Even though the proportion of North Koreans
able to consistently tune into cross border broadcasts isn’t overwhelmingly
large at the moment, the outside information that does get through doesn’t
simply stay with the listener. It gets spread and shared in a process that
contributes to the changing consciousness of the North Korean people.

Reporter Sommer traveled to North Korea in
1990. About the experience, he said, “I’ve had the chance to speak with North
Korean laborers. My preconception that North Korea had no culture for debating
ideas and was highly uniform was a very bad misjudgment. While it is apparent
that North Korea is bleaker than East Germany ever was, there are likely people
in the country already who know what is what. But we need to show patience and
continue to broadcast radio above the 38th parallel.”

Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (Central German
Broadcasting, MDR) reporter and former East German democracy advocate Siegbert
Schefke (pictured right) said, “Even autocratic countries are filled with rational people.
Through cross border radio, the outside world can extend a voice to the
voiceless and give them the strength to endure. Such efforts will help bring
about the destruction of the authoritarian regime and plant the seeds for

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

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