Sending Out Signals to Long-Isolated North Koreans

Writing for the Washington Post (December 30, 2007; Page A27), Francine Uenuma covers the DPRK defector-run radio stations in the South which broadcast for audiences in the North.

Who is in this game?
All told, Seoul has three privately run radio stations targeting the North: Open Radio for North Korea, Radio Free Chosun and Kim’s [Free North Korea Radio], the only one run by defectors, who are helped by a committed South Korean staff. Washington-based Radio Free Asia and Voice of America also broadcast to the North.

[FNK’s] broadcasts avoid overtly political messages in favor of cultural subjects. While for some North Koreans “politics is a matter of life and death,” others turn away from it, he noted. “We want to broaden our base as much as possible. For that purpose our radio programs are soft.”

Kim Yun-tae, director of Radio Free Chosun, said his station takes a similar approach. “At first we were doing more propaganda broadcasting, but we changed our minds,” he said. Added Kyounghee An, the station’s international manager, “We don’t think we can cause the collapse of the regime directly. . . . We think after listening, people can compare their real situation to Kim Jong Il’s propaganda and can change their minds, step by step.”

Radio Free Chosun broadcasts North Korean domestic news as well as stories of escapes, revisions to North Korean textbooks and dramas about Kim Jong Il.

The two stations run by South Koreans have defectors on staff who try to make the broadcasts palatable to a North Korean audience, smoothing out political and cultural differences in language, for instance.

Who is listening?
Determining how many people are listening to the stations’ broadcasts is impossible. Though jamming is an impediment, improved signals and electricity shortages that stop the jamming limit North Korea’s ability to block broadcasts completely.

The South Korean government, eager to encourage good relations with the communist capital, Pyongyang, discontinued most of the programs its Korean Broadcasting System aimed at the North. But it has taken a hands-off approach to the private stations, broadcasters say, allowing them to operate but offering no financial support. All three services indirectly receive about $200,000 in U.S. government funds annually through the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy.


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