“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

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“Once You Start Watching, You Simply Cannot Stop”: Part 1 of 3 on Outside Media in North Korea

A screenshot of Lee Min Ho and Son Ye Jin from the first Korean drama your correspondent ever watched, “Personal Preferences.” South Korean dramas are one of the most important sources of new information now becoming available to North Korean citizens. Photo credit MBC.

Typically I scan the web for my information about North Korea. Most of my sources are from Internet news stories, usually in US or Korean media. But now and then I stumble upon a primary source, and they are phenomenally, refreshingly satisfying.

This post comes from such a primary source.

North Korea, according to a new study produced by InterMedia, is experiencing a huge increase in foreign media penetration. The study finds an increased awareness of the outside world, positive perceptions thereof, and a growth of trust between citizens.

Hopeful observers recall the surprising effect of access to technology in the Arab Spring revolts in 2011 and imagine a similar uprising in the future for North Korea. A more logical analysis suggests that any change will be slow. Access to outside media in North Korea is still extremely low; mobile penetration is around 2%, and 80% of North Korean citizens say that word-of-mouth is the most common means of information dissemination in the country. State media comes in a distant second at 40%.

A survey of defectors from and travelers in North Korea provided the authority for the survey. About 650 defectors, refugees, and travelers were interviewed in 2010 and 2011 and the results analyzed in “A Quiet Opening: North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment”. Continue reading

In the News – Study: Outside media changing N. Korean worldview

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In the News  – Study: Outside media changing N. Korean worldview

WASHINGTON (AP) — The growing availability of news media and cellphones in reclusive North Korea likely forced it to admit within hours that its long-range rocket launch last month was a failure, the U.S. human rights envoy to the country said Thursday.

The envoy, Robert King, was speaking at the launch of a U.S. government-funded study that says North Koreans now have unprecedented exposure to foreign media, giving them a more positive impression of the outside world.

North Korea allowed foreign journalists extensive access to the country to report on the centennial of the nation’s founder in mid-April, which included the launch of a satellite into space that violated U.N. sanctions. The rocket, which uses the same technology to ballistic missiles, disintegrated within a minute or two of takeoff.

“The media environment in North Korea has changed and is changing, and with the availability of cellphones for internal communication, and greater availability of information internally, you can’t just say, ‘Let’s play patriotic songs’ so all can tune in,” King said.

The study, commissioned by the State Department and conducted by a consulting group, InterMedia, said North Korea still has the world’s most closed media environment — there’s still no public access to the Internet — but the government’s ability to control the flow information is receding. Continue reading