”Everyone Thinks Highly Of South Korea”: Part 3 of 3 on Outside Media in North Korea

A diagram from InterMedia shows the pyramid structure of the outside media environment in North Korea. Photo credit InterMedia.

In posts 1 and 2 of this series on outside media in North Korea we saw all sorts of accounts from defectors about the procurement, consumption, and utility of outside media in North Korea.

Now it’s time for a conclusion.

What effect does all of this foreign media have on North Koreans? We’ve seen already that it can affect the way they run their businesses, the way they fill their free time, and even the way they speak. It also affects the way they think, although proponents of sending material specifically targeted at North Koreans should be aware that it might not have the same effect as, say, South Korean TV dramas. The study’s authors cite defectors who were appreciative of the lack of overt messages or careful selection of subjects in dramas, and note that “North Koreans are well-practiced consumers of heavy-handed propaganda and the absence of such propaganda in South Korean dramas increases their credibility in the minds of many North Korean viewers.” In other words, North Koreans aren’t that easy to fool; they are used to propaganda, and rather than brainwashing them, it has made them sophisticated and world-wise. Continue reading

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“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

“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

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