There was sadness in North Korean Gangwon Province this weekend, after the South Korean authorities stopped broadcasting analogue television signals on the South Korean side of the border at 2PM on the 25th.
The move had been planned, and is in accordance with both South Korean government policy and the broader global shift to digital TV, but was still a source of dismay in the information-starved border region.
A source from the province currently in a city bordering China told Daily NK on Sunday, “Those people who used to watch South Korean TV in secret are very disappointed that it has suddenly been shut off. People want to know whether there is another way to get the signal. But even if there is, it’s not easy to buy the right equipment.”
“First this strange writing came on the screen, and then the broadcast cut out,” the source recalled. “The advice is that we are going to have to buy an LCD (digital) TV or install some new receiver, but for ordinary people without much money it will be hard to do that.”
All television sets sold in South Korea today are digital-ready. However, for those people still using analogue sets, mostly older people living in provincial areas, it is necessary to install an UHF antenna or employ a signal converter to receive the digital signal.
The South Korean government is financially supporting the shift to digital. However, rtesidents of North Korean Gangwon Province are ill-placed to follow suit; it is one of the poorest provinces in North Korea overall, and the one least affected by trade links with China. The province’s main city, Wonsan, used to be linked to western Japan by the ‘Moranbong’ ferry, but that route was withdrawn as a result of Japanese sanctions on the North.
On this, an official with the South Korean agency charged with promoting the domestic move from analogue to digital TV said he could understand the sadness, but added, “We do not have any plan to deliver a separate analogue broadcast signal for North Korean viewers.”
Digital-ready LCD TVs are available in North Korea, but currently sell for around $700, a sum which is beyond the reach of a large percentage of the population.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the TVs have a ready market in the middle and upper classes. According to Daily NK sources in Dandong, and as persons traveling through Beijing to Pyongyang by air will be able to attest, one of the items most commonly taken into the country are flat-screen digital TVs. According to Kim, a North Korean trader working through Dandong, “The number of people asking me to obtain LCD televisions has been rising since last year, maybe from fiver per month at the start of this year to about ten now.”