Media in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is tightly controlled. Television stations broadcast government-endorsed news and statements, documentaries affirming the god-like status of the Kim family and politically fueled dramas. Radio subscribers are treated daily to Kim Jong-Un’s schedule and criticism of policies that do not match the country’s own.
As with most technology, radio usage is restricted. Most South Korean broadcasts are jammed so that North Koreans on the receiving end hear little more than ‘jet plane noise.’ All legal radios in North Korea are tuned to specific stations. They are checked and registered with police.
It is radios of the illegal variety that are beginning what some are referring to as a ‘quiet revolution.’ Smuggled in from China or homemade, they access a variety of independent programming. Providing potential listeners with real-time news is the purpose of groups like Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and Radio Free Chosun.
One such group, Free North Korea Radio (FNKR,) was founded by Kim Seong Min. Once a North Korean soldier, Min tuned into a South Korean station “out of curiosity.” The program he listened to debunked myths surrounding Kim Jong Il, particularly regarding the place of the Great Leader’s birth. The more he listened, the more he doubted what he had been taught. Min eventually made his escape to the south.
FNKR, which is based in Seoul, now broadcasts three hours per day. Staffers, most North Korean defectors, report on the outside world. In an effort to protect their families, almost everyone but Min uses a pseudonym.
Radio stations like FNKR reroute the information paths into North Korea. For over half a century, the North Korean government has chosen and embellished its facts in a tactful manner.
Radio distribution has been spurred on by the black markets that have supported North Koreans since the famine of the 1990s. By engaging in private enterprises, these citizens undermine the state distribution system, and consequently break North Korean law. Even so, an estimated 80 percent of North Koreans are involved in the black market today. In 2010, research group InterMedia conducted a study to see how much of the North had access to foreign media.
Radio remains the most effective means of communicating news to North Koreans. Curiosity, well-intentioned piracy and radios are breaking the government’s attempt at monopolizing the country’s media.
– Olivia Kostreva