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Impact of Independent Radio Broadcasts in North Korea

October 25, 2010

The following is the prepared text of a presentation at the 2010 International Conference on Human Rights sponsored by NKnet, the Sejong Institute and NED. The conference was held in Washington, D.C., on October 21, 2010.

1. Meaning

North Korea is an unprecedented individual dictatorship. North Korean supreme leader, Kim Jong Il, monopolized power and wealth in politics, culture, economy, society and education. Most of the people are living like slaves, deprived of every right and wealth. The brutal deaths of several million in the 1990s are a tragedy of the extreme dictatorship.

The KJI regime succeeded in building the dictatorship in three ways. One is to isolate the society from the rest of the world. Second is to make North Korean people believe that their country is a socialist paradise. And the last one is to instill the fantasy of becoming happier if following the great leader.

However, in the mid 1990s, North Korean people experienced the tragedy and realized that North Korea is no longer a paradise. They knew that Kim Jong Il was not a great leader. However, their suffering is continuing. They still suffer from poverty and starvation, and live under the fear of political violence, continuing to live without hope for a better future.

Radio to North Korea brings hope to North Korean people, and teach them willingness and ability to build new society. Many North Korean people want to know what is wrong with North Korean society, how other countries are like and what direction North Korean society should take in order to live in a better society. The most significant meaning of the radio is to deliver hope and information, penetrating the wall of dictatorship.

Radio is the most effective medium to give diverse information, fastest, to most North Korean people.

2. Status

Radio to North Korea can be divided into public and private ones. Public radio is KBS Korea Global Radio, and there are four private radios; Open North Korea Radio (ONK), Free NK (FNK), Radio Free Chosun (RFC) and North Korean Reform Radio (NKRR).

1) KBS Korea Global Radio

KBS Korea Global Radio started in 1948, when the Republic of Korea was founded. Initially, it aimed at Korean people living in communist countries, on problems of socialist society and superiority of democratic society. In the 1970s, it changed to Social Education Broadcast, and started to air more diverse programs, and even to Korean-Japanese people.

After 1994, when Kim Il Sung died, it upgraded North Korean programs to prepare for reunification. During this time period, the number of North Korean people listening to it increased. The North Korean listeners were greatly influenced by SEB, and some even defected after listening to it.

However, after Kim Dae Jung administration inaugurated, programs changed to follow the new North Korean policy. Especially after the 2000 inter-Korean summit, programs for North Koreans were reduced or stopped. Programs focusing on cooperation and reconciliation increased. In 2007, KBS changed the SEB’s name to Korea Global Radio, and the character is changed to an overseas Koreans’broadcast, featuring Korea’s history, culture and information.

During the Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun administrations, North Korean authorities did not jam the radio seriously. However, since the start of Lee Myung Bak government, KBS started to include programs critical to North Korea. North Korean authorities are now jamming KBS, again.

Currently, KBS is broadcasting 20 hours per day, to overseas Koreans in China, the Russian Far East, Sakhalin and Japan

Korea Global Radio 1 broadcasts from 13:00 to 09:00 of the next day, on AM 972kHz and 6015kHz.
Korea Global Radio 2 broadcasts from 19:00 to 13:00 of the next day, on AM 1170kHz.

2) Open North Korea Radio

ONK started as a radio transmission agency. At first, it rented a frequency (5880khz), and broadcasted Free NK and RFC for 30 minutes each.

After a while, RFC and Free NK gained own frequencies, and ONK turned to a broadcaster. In December 2006, it started to broadcast one hour of program, and expanded it to two hours per day.

Currently, ONK broadcasts from 11 to 12PM, (one hour) on 11570 kHz, and from 6 to 7AM, on 7480 kHz.

3) Free NK

It is a broadcast made by North Korean defectors in South Korea. Since it is produced by defectors who know North Korea’s reality well, it is rated as a station that has well chosen information and friendly tone.

It started online broadcast in April 2004, then had transmitted shortwave broadcast for 30 minutes per day, from December 2005. From April 2006, it increased broadcasting hours to 1 hour, and from March 2009, it is increased to 5 hours.

As of May 2010, it broadcasts from 10 to 11 PM on 12155kHz, from 10PM to 12AM on 15645 kHz, and from 4 to 6 AM on 7530 kHz.

4) Radio Free Chosun

It is a broadcaster created by South Korea’s activists and defectors, with a goal of changing North Korean people’s mind. On one hand, they deliver the news of the outside world, and on the other hand, they criticize North Korean society’s problems and suggest alternatives. Also, it considers North Korea as a society of extreme dictatorship, and emphasizes on the information about Kim Jong Il.

It started in December 2005, broadcasting 30 minutes per day, and has expanded to 3 hours per day now.

As of June 2010, it broadcasts from 11PM to 12AM on 11560kHz, from midnight to 1AM on 11560 kHz, and broadcasts from 5 AM to 6AM on 7515kHz.

5) North Korean Reform Radio

It aims at North Korea’s elites. From late 2006, it opened an internet website, and after signing contract in 2007, it started to broadcast first programs from January 2008.

NKRR is also consisted of North Korean defectors. There is no big difference in contents and goal. However, it emphasizes a single theme, reform and opening, more deeply. Currently, it broadcasts one hour of shortwave.

From midnight to 1AM, it broadcasts on 7590kHz.

3. Impact and Role of the Radio

1) An increasing number of people listen to the radio

According to a 2005 survey of 330 defectors by North Korean Human Rights Database Center, 18% of the respondents said that they had listened to a foreign radio at least once. 4.9% of them said that they had listened every day. If roughly calculated, based on North Korean population, 4 million people have listened to foreign radio at least once, and 1.1 million is listening to it every day. Given this survey is conducted among defectors in South Korea, the actual number should be less. However, even if only 5% really listen, fifty thousand North Koreans are listening to the radio every day.

Surveys after 2005 are showing higher rate of listening. According to a survey that took place in late 2000s, 25 to 30% of the respondents had ever listened to radio. In a recent survey, the figure was 38%. For the last five years, the number of listeners seems increasing, and they spread the news they heard from the radio to family and friends. Along with increased listening and listeners’ information spread activity, the impact of the radio is also increasing.

2) It spreads South Korean culture to people

There are testimonies that many North Koreans sing South Korean songs, imitate South Korean dialect and style.

An increasing number of people are aware of global brands like Nike. Merchants are selling cloths from China with famous brand printed on it. People now prefer brands, and young people listen to South Korean songs from MP3 players.

If the culture of South Korea and the world can be introduced via radio, it can help changing North Korean people’s culture and lives.

3) It plays a certain role in changing people’s ideology

As more people listen to foreign radio, more people are realizing that the regime’s ideology and theory are false. No one believes that South Korea is a colony of the United States, and there are beggars everywhere in South Korea. Rather, more people think that South Korea is much more developed that North Korea.

Among the radio broadcasts, there many programs that compare North and South Korea’s politics, economy, society and culture. It may play big role in letting North Korean people know about the false propaganda of the North Korean authorities after listening to the programs that vividly compare the difference of income, life style and others in South and North Korea.

4) Role of Radio

There are three types of roles that radios can play for change in North Korea. First, it is to deliver the news and information to North Korean people quickly. Secondly, by informing the fundamental reason of North Korean regime’s crisis to North Korean people, they could recognize the reality of the regime. Thirdly, it can suggest the direction North Korea should take. Drama, movie and leaflets have limits to bring information and news quickly, or to point out North Korean regime’s systematic problems and proper direction. Therefore, radio is the most effective means to change North Korean society and people’s mind.

First, the most important is to change people’s ideology. The basis of changing people’s ideology is to deliver news and information to North Koreans fast and accurately.

North Korean people want to know about outside news. Since they are isolated from outside news source, they have strong desire to know the foreign information. It is necessary to let them know various news around the world, and positions of the United States, China, Japan and South Korea on North Korea, without bias.

Information and news about South Korea need to increase. North Korean people are interested in South Korean information. North Korean authorities have hidden the suffering of the North Koreans by false propaganda. By telling them of South Korean news and information quickly, North Korean people should know about South Korea accurately.

It is important to broadcast North Korea’s inside news, too. North Korean authorities is restricting the inside news, if it is not useful to control the populace. Particularly, the information about North Korean authorities’ corruption, inability and human rights violation are completely cut off. Rumor has been playing the role of the media. However, spreading rumor and confirming it take long time. North Korean people have to wait for a week or a month to know important news around the world and country. Radio could deliver the North Korean news fast.

Second, the change of North Korean people’s mind starts from realizing North Korean regime’s problems. To enlighten North Korean people, radio has the best efficiency. Drama, movie, or printed materials cannot explain the North Korean regime’s problem, systematically and continuously. Vivid and detailed depiction of North Korean regime’s anti-democratic behavior is necessary, in order to broadcast the regime’s reality. Also, comparison of North Korea with other societies is important.

Thirdly, it is also important to present the proper direction of North Korean society. North Korea’s difficulty and suffering are impossible to be solved by North Korean people alone, due to severe suppression and restriction of the regime. Because of this, assistance from the outside world is important. The way to support solution of North Korean human rights and other issues is to change the regime. The most effective way at this point is to enlighten the North Koreans and present the proper direction North Korean society should follow. Radios can do this job most effectively.

North Korean-style socialism is completely failed. The only way to improve people’s lives and society of North Korea is reform and opening. As the failure of socialism was proven in 1980s, all socialist countries adopted reform and opening. As a result, people in China, Vietnam, Poland, Czech and Hungary are freed from hunger. Radios must let North Korean people know that, if personal farming, market are legalized, economy opened and cooperation with South Korea, China, and the United States start, the North Korean economy can revive, and their hunger can end.

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