“It Works Like A Market Economy”: Part 2 of 3 on Outside Media in North Korea

A radio tower stands in North Korea. Radio inside the country is limited to state transmissions, but citizens are often able to pick up transmissions from China or South Korea. Photo credit InterMedia.

In part 1 of this series we were introduced to the surge of outside media availability inside North Korea, reported in a recent survey of defectors and others with recent inside experience in North Korea by InterMedia. In this post we’ll go deeper into the role outside media plays inside the isolated country.

DVDs aren’t the only source of information on the outside world. CDs, cassettes, USBs, and even micro-SD cards are flourishing in black market trade, providing additional access to outside films and TV shows. Access typically comes through border residents or through the political and economic elite; the media are then shared with trusted contacts throughout the country. Some people in positions of power can even “order” a show or film brought in and it will make its way across the border through a network of bribery and smuggling. Continue reading

In the News – Rocky Yes, Juche Wind No


In the News – Rocky Yes, Juche Wind No

The Ministry of People’s Safety has been ordered to crack down on more than 500 popular songs that either have South Korean melodies with North Korean words or are deemed to be influenced by South Korean culture.

An inside source told Daily NK late last week, “The authorities have tried to ban more than 500 North Korean movie theme songs that are either of South Korean origin or influence. The Ministry of People’s Safety has declared them ‘anti-socialist’ and started a crackdown.”

The North Korean authorities have been enforcing a crackdown on South Korean cultural influences through the ‘109 Inspection Team’ for some time, but this is the first time that they have publicized a list of banned songs.

According to the source, the banned songs are categorized into three types: 1. South Korean songs sung with different lyrics 2. South Korean songs sung by North Koreans 3. Songs composed under South Korean musical influence.

Popular South Korean songs in North Korea that make the list include Morning Dew by Yang Hui Eun, Friend by Ahn Jae Wook, Japcho by Na Hun A, Apartment by Yoon Soo Il, You will Never Know by Hae Eun I, and A Letter From A Private by the late Kim Kwang Suk. Many people sing the songs without even knowing that they are South Korean.

An example of a song with its lyrics changed to contain North Korean words is ‘Wind Wind Wind’ by Kim Beom Ryong from 1985. The last verse, ‘you are a wind that makes me cry’ is sung as ‘Juche, Juche wind.’ However, the people sometimes sing the original South Korean version when meeting in private.

The banned songs are sung in a way that is distinctly different from North Korean songs, which are sung in high-pitched voice. The lyrics of the banned songs are mostly about friendship and love, which stands in contrast to the standard North Korean fare.

In the past, South Korean songs could not be spread easily, but now they are easily copied through MP3, MP4 and USBs. North Korean students run the risk of being sent to Coventry if they are uncool and don’t know any South Korean songs. As such, the authorities are only likely to drive the songs a little further underground, rather than eliminating them.

As the source pointed out, “Even though the Ministry of People’s Safety is cracking down on South Korean films and music, people will still watch the films and listen to the music.”


Original Article

Foreign Media in North Korea

I wrote an article a while back on the impact of South Korean media in North Korea and how big its role has become. Well, to say the least, the amount of access North Koreans have to foreign news and media content is the highest it’s ever been. And, more importantly, it’s making a difference.

A recent study conducted by InterMedia and commissioned by the U.S. State Department on the impacts of foreign media within North Korea says that although North Korea still remains as the world’s most reclusive country, “ the [North Korean] government’s ability to control the flow information is receding.”

The government still has laws against accessing foreign media but much of it relies on citizens reporting on each other. However, with less people willing to turn their neighbors in, the government is losing its power. A Korean would even say that the North Korean government has become like a tiger with a loud roar but very little teeth to do any damage. Of course, North Koreans are still smart about their actions and are still wary of government inspection teams but the thing that has changed the most is that people are more open to sharing their movies and dramas with each other instead hiding it in fear. Continue reading

In the News – Winds of Unification Still Blowing…


In the News – Winds of Unification Still Blowing…

▲ Yesterday’s launch event for ‘Hallyu; The Wind of Unification’ opened at Seoul Club on the 27th. (© DailyNK)

It is well known that the higher up in the North Korean class hierarchy a family is, the more access its members have to South Korean movies and dramas (the media grouped together internationally as ‘Hallyu’ or ‘Korean Wave’).

This was a view confirmed yesterday by Park Jung Ran of the Center for Cultural Unification Studies at the release of the center’s latest report, ‘Hallyu; The Wind of Unification’.

The center’s latest report is the sequel to last year’s ‘Hallyu; Shaking North Korea’ by Kang Dong Wan and Park Jung Ran. This time the two have surveyed 100 defectors, divided by region, class, gender and generation, in their renewed hunt for ‘Hallyu reality’.

“People in the financial upper class are getting more access to South Korean videos”, Park asserted. “Many watch every day, or at least once a week. It seems that the wealthy have financial freedom, so they like to watch South Korean videos.”

According to the results published in the report, 32% of men and 13% of women have experience of watching some kind of South Korean media, while people in their 40s, at 33.3%, have the most access overall. Unsurprisingly, people living along the Sino-North Korea border in North Hamkyung Province have the highest degree of access in geographical terms.

The event also involved a policy debate, reminding the audience that allowing North Koreans to have access to South Korean media may be good, but the question of what kind of media to give access to is also important.

On this, Park noted, “Hallyu has both good and bad elements. It is positive in that the North Koreans can learn more about and empathize with South Korean society; however, it can give them a negative impression if they view pornographic or violent videos.”

Jeon Hyun Jun, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification who was at the event as a panelist, agreed, saying, “The lower down the classes one goes, the more conservative and hostile towards South Korea one seems to be. Because fantastical and violent content can lead to adverse effects, the government needs to take the lead in strategic policy to spread diverse genres among the lower classes.”

Nevertheless, Kang was confident that media access is a critical area that must be focused on.

“Although data is now being shared through new mediums such as USBs, how much is needed to generate systemic change is still a point of interest,” he said. “Shared awareness and cultural exchanges between the two Koreas could prove to be the road to unification.”