Radio broadcasts an ‘eye-opening’ experience for N. Koreans

The landmark deal reached between South and
North Korean high-level officials last month and the joint statement that came
from it are said to have once again confirmed the power of radio broadcasts
into North Korea including those blared from loudspeakers across the
inter-Korean border. In an unprecedented move, Pyongyang initiated talks in
order to halt the broadcasts that were seen capable of driving a stake through
the heart of Kim Jong Un’s leadership. In the end, North Korea expressed
‘regret’ over the land mine explosion and agreed to six points in a fresh
inter-Korean accord.

What kind of effects do these broadcasts

The authorities require all radio sets to be fixed to
Pyongyang’s central broadcast frequency — a clear sign of state efforts made
to block all means of communication. State-run media focus only on the
idolization of the Kim family instead of providing people with information and
a balanced viewpoint on issues.  

Being able to listen to a voice from the
outside world, typically by bribing someone with the know-how to tamper with the dial on radios smuggled in from China, instead of North Korea’s state propaganda is said to be an
eye-opening experience, according to North Korean defectors who have had access
to loudspeaker messages or radio broadcasts. For people in the North who are
thirsty for news from outside of the country, these broadcasts help open their
eyes to the lies told by the state and the fabrications behind the

In the case of loudspeaker broadcasts,
which roiled the North, eventually leading to artillery fire, they can only be
heard up to 25km into the North from the demilitarized zone; but in the case of radio
broadcasts, many North Koreans can gain access, which is why it’s believed to a
play a larger role in psychological warfare.

“After listening to the radio, I naturally
found myself comparing things with the reality in North Korea,” Chae Ga Yeon
(50), a North Korean defector who used to enjoy tuning into radio broadcasts,
told Daily NK on Wednesday. “Having learned about things that are different
from state propaganda, I took on a more critical way of thinking toward the
state, and I started to realize Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are not gods as the
state claims. They started to look like average human beings,” she said.

“People who have tuned into broadcasts like
these don’t keep the information to themselves. They share it with others,”
Chae explained. “This makes other people listen in on the broadcasts as well,
and they start being more critical against the state that is blocking out the

Kim Seong Yeob (45) is another escapee
who also tuned into these broadcasts. “North Korean broadcasts are not
interesting since all they do is focus on idolization, so I enjoyed listening
to South Korean broadcasts since they would share different news stories and
air radio dramas as well,” Kim said. “Then I came to open my eyes to the
false propaganda and developed this desire to learn more about society in North
Korea and study it,” he recalled.

Some even claim cadre members who are
tasked with security duties listen to South Korean broadcasts even more than
most people do.

“Regular soldiers carry out their daily
activities all in groups, so it’s hard for them to listen to the radio, but
those above the ranking of platoon leaders are able to tune in a lot,” former
cadre member Kim Cheong Won (51), who used to be based along the Sino-North
Korean border, said. “Since they are in charge of managing their troops, they
listen to news from outside and sometimes draw up lectures criticizing outside

Kim went on to explain that most cadres can
listen to broadcasts at ease, as they are not subject to much monitoring.
“These cadres later find themselves talking about how the country should follow
in China’s footsteps. They also develop a critical view toward North Korea’s
policies and a change in heart about capitalism as well,” Kim added.

What role should broadcasts have?

Experts believe these broadcasts can
expedite change in people’s awareness in North Korea. Given that state
dominance over information is the control mechanism used over North Koreans,
they believe information from outside can deal a severe blow to the North
Korean system.

Some even argue in order to realize
President Park Geun Hye’s “unification is a jackpot” vision, enhancing
broadcasts should be a priority. The belief is that the difference between
South and North Koreans, which could become an obstacle for reunification, can
to a great extent be alleviated through outside information. Especially,
democratic values instilled in people in the North through these messages can
also become the cause for change, they point out.

“There will be confusion if information
other than the propaganda fed to people reaches North Koreans who are cut off
from other sources of news,” Shin In Kyoon, head of Korea Defense Network,
said. “But over time, once they get the opportunity to determine which
information is true, we will see growing distrust in the system, a drop in
loyalty, and the spread of resentment.”

Shin added that although the state is
trying to keep things under control, without rations and instead growing
elements of the market economy, it will be hard to hold a tight grip over
people. “Under circumstances like this, a change in awareness through
broadcasts to the North can ignite a collapse in the system,” he surmised.  

Mounting uncertainties over the stability
of the current leadership may also trigger more change. “Right now, it’s not
just the average person in the North but also the elite that may be rethinking
their loyalty to the state, as questions arise about the uncertain future,”
Professor Kim Myeong Jun from Sogang University said. “If the civilian
broadcasts offer everything from tiny pieces of information to news about
what’s happening in the North, it will move their hearts,” Kim said.

This will be more so among young North
Koreans who are in their 20s and 30s. Facing a growing population that plays
looser with its ideological beliefs and is more open to accepting elements of
foreign culture, Kim points out the South should at least continue its civilian
broadcasts into the North, if it is unable to do so on the border through
government loudspeakers.

“On the road towards unification, there may
be other directions to take such as economic cooperation, but broadcasts will
have a very important role in providing people in the North with eyes and
ears,” Kim said. “These civilian radio broadcasts are a less pricey way to win
over the hearts of people up North.”