Moon Sung Hwee
Recent demand for small-sized TVs has been rapidly increasing in North Korea’s border regions, resulting in a huge price increases.
According to an inside North Korean source, the price of 12-inch (dubbed “chok” in North Korea) and 14-inch TVs, compared with prices this time last year, increased by 50 thousand to 100 thousand won (approx. USD15-30). Despite the increase, these small TVs are selling out, resulting in a supply shortage in stores located throughout the border regions.
Most 12-inch black and white TVs are Chinese-made. These TVs, which could have been purchased for a mere 150,000 won (approx. USD46) up until the end of last year, have recently sold for as much as 250,000 won.
The reason for the increase in the border region is that the state has strengthened inspections in these areas of those who watch Chinese TVs. The recent preference for small-size TVs comes from the fact that they are relatively easy to conceal.
A majority of border region civilians from North Pyongan to North Hamkyung Province can receive Chinese TV signals, thanks to the close distance. Among the channels able to be viewed is once broadcasted via Yanbian TV and South Korea’s China TV (www.openchina21.com). In accordance with a 2004 agreement between these two companies to promote broadcasting and cultural exchange, diverse South Korean dramas and movies as well as advertisements of South Korean products can be viewed.
The North Korean government collected remote controls to prevent the viewing of Chinese TV along the border region and implemented measures such as sealing the channels. Throughout the China-North Korea border region, inspections conducted by the No. 27 Bureau (under the Central Communications Office) are still very much underway.
The source said, “No. 27 Bureau agents come knocking at the door and turn on the TV at once to verify which channels have been viewed. Further, they inspect the state of sealed channels; if the seal has been damaged, the TV is confiscated.” When inspections take place, 30~50 sets are taken at a time, and in order to retrieve them, several thousand won in bribes is needed.”
However, in cases where these methods have failed to prevent the viewing of Chinese TV, technicians have entered homes and intercepted the circuits inside the TV, re-sealing the attached apparatus with high-strength adhesives. By doing so, the channels are forcibly fixed on Chosun Central TV broadcasting.
When the government carried out such invasive measures, the civilians put up a strong resistance, “Are they planning to just break TVs?” However, the government enforced the regulation of internal equipment, even when faced with civil rebellion.
The source said, “The apparatus inside televisions have been fixed so that people cannot watch Chinese TV channels, and inspections have been occurring randomly, so people have been watching and hiding small-size TVs in their homes.” This activity is reflected in the price increase.
One defector who has experience in selling used TVs in Rajin in North Hamkyung Province said, “Small-size TVs by which people could watch South Korean broadcasting were originally in high demand in South Pyongan, Kangwondo and South Hwanghae.” He said, “Since they cannot pass through customs, they are usually smuggled into and sold on the black market.”
The People’s Safety Agency handed down a decree stating that, “Those who pose a threat to the state and social system will be severely punished. Get rid of all kinds of places offering karaoke, movies, film subscriptions, PCs, and games.” It further emphasized the National Security Agency’s tightening of cell phone regulations along the border region.
Since last year, severe regulation of illegal films (foreign and South Korean DVDs and VCDs) has continually been enforced. Since this year, the North Korean government has gotten headaches from regulating the houses of civilians.
The North Korean government claims that the purpose of the regulations is “Destroying enemy maneuvers and directly impugn acts that pose a threat to society and the system.” North Korea’s opening and reform still seems far off.