“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

Researching Refugees

North Korean Asylum Seekers (Photo Credit: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

This summer, when I wasn’t driving around in a minivan or eating dinner or talking about Gossip Girl with North Korean refugees, I dabbled in some online research on foreign policy.

This was on assignment from the Ministry of Unification’s Resettlement Support Division, the department that looks after North Korean refugees during their integration process. I looked into Chinese, South Korean, US, Australian, UK, and Canadian policies with respect to North Korean refugees—those are at least the countries with plentiful information available in English about their policies, and generally are also the ones with the greatest influx of North Korean refugees. Continue reading