North Koreans watch live South Korean TV broadcasts in Sinuiju

North Korean residents of Pyongyang
North Korean residents of Pyongyang in photos taken during the recent inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang. Image: Pyongyang Press Corps Pool

Amidst reports that South Korean dramas and movies are spreading throughout North Korea, the country’s younger generation is warming to South Korean culture much more earnestly than the older generations. This is causing a headache for the authorities tasked with trying to stop the spread of South Korean culture by handing out heavy punishments.

“Sinuiju (North Pyongan Province) is close to (the Chinese city of) Dandong, which may mean that (South Korean movies and dramas) are coming in from there. There’s nothing there except for the river, so people with electricity are actively watching that stuff (movies and dramas),” said a Daily NK source based in North Pyongan Province on February 10.

“Some North Koreans are watching Korean videos in real-time. Elderly people generally watch South Korean news while younger people watch movies and dramas.”

North Korea’s state TV broadcasts in the PAL format as standard while South Korea employs the NTSC format. These two systems are not compatible with each other, so North Koreans cannot watch South Korean broadcasts on their TVs. Some North Koreans, however, are able to watch South Korean broadcasts after manually altering TVs manufactured in Japan to catch broadcast signals. Others use imported Chinese TVs that are compatible with both systems.

Sinuiju is close to Dandong in China’s Liaoning Province, so North Koreans can smuggle in mini-satellite broadcast devices sold cheaply in China to watch South Korean broadcasts.

The North Korean authorities are making efforts to prevent people in the country from watching external broadcasts by conducting crackdowns and handing down stiff punishments. The country’s younger generation, however, continues to watch South Korean content.

“Those born in 1950 or in the 70s or 80s will try to avoid getting punished by the authorities, but those born in the 1990s are different. They will even risk getting caught and this has left the country’s authorities at a loss,” a separate source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK.

“Those born in the 90s continue to watch South Korean videos even after harsh beatings. The country’s security authorities are complaining that the problem lies in these young people born in the 90s.”

Young people born between the mid-1980s and late 1990s, all of whom experienced the harrowing effects of the widespread famine, are more familiar with the market economy than the socialist planned economy and rationing systems, and thus have more individualistic personalities. Moreover, many have been unable to attend school properly during the famine, so their indoctrination to state propaganda is weaker than in previous generations.

Sinuiju’s proximity to the Chinese border has allowed a great deal of information and goods to cross into it.

An additional source in Sinuiju added that USBs and SD cards “with Korean dramas and the like are more easily obtained here, so everyone in the area watches the latest shows.”

“People here speak differently than in other regions, and this is because they’ve all watched South Korean dramas and movies,” she said.

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