North Korean authorities are pressuring overseas residents of China to purchase a domestically-made IPTV set-top box as part of efforts to strengthen ideological education, Daily NK has learned. 

“The North Korean embassy to China is selling IPTV set-top boxes to embassy staff and trade representatives at RMB 2,000 [around USD 282] per box. There is a lot of pressure to buy the boxes, which places a substantial burden on those who have recently been struggling to make ends meet,” a China-based source told Daily NK on June 8. 

North Korea has been developing and selling a set-top box called “Manbang” since 2016. Manbang is capable of playing TV broadcasts in real-time along with videos-on-demand (VODs).

The state-run outlet DPRK Today described Manbang as an “IT platform” that allows businesses or households subscribed to North Korea’s intranet network to view various broadcasts real-time, as well as re-watch programs that have already aired. 

The source pointed out that forcing North Korean citizens abroad to purchase the set-top box has more to do with strengthening ideological education than making money. 

“The set-top box allows North Korean authorities to provide educational programs to North Koreans living in China, including embassy staff and traders,” the source told Daily NK. “[The reason the authorities are pressuring people to buy the devices] is because they think that there are declining levels of loyalty and ideological fervor among those living in China.” 

The recent push to sell the devices may also be part of efforts by North Korean authorities to provide overseas residents with devices capable of broadcasting only North Korean programs. Many North Koreans living abroad reportedly watch foreign TV in secret.

North Korean authorities are also checking to see whether people living in China are watching the various ideological education programs provided by the state, according to the source. 

“The leadership has instructed that criticism sessions should include discussions on whether people are using the set-top boxes,” the source told Daily NK, adding, “North Korean officials will even go as far as calling up individuals to ask about the broadcasts and make sure they are being watched.” 

Manbang features reports on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s activities, as well as dramatized versions of Kim Il Sung’s memoirs. Videos relating to Kim family history are also available in the device’s VOD platform.

Manbang provides users with a range of video content available through North Korea’s national intranet. Overseas users are unable to access the country’s intranet from abroad, so they appear to be viewing North Korean video content through the Internet.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.