Haeju receives South Korean broadcasts

How pervasive is the flow of outside information in North Korea?  Typically stories in the media answer this question as though geography is the determinate variable: Cities near the Chinese border are the most influenced by heterodox ideas (since cell phones, clear television signals, and smuggling have been commonplace for years), and cities in the south (along the DMZ) are the most isolated (aside from Kaesong).  North Korea’s internal travel restrictions prevent foreign ideas from spreading.  This view was recently repeated by Andrei Lankov.

“The Kaesong exception” is thought to be correlated to the growth of the the Kaesong Industrial Zone.  The theory goes that the thousands of North Koreans who are employed in Kaesong (who work in South Korean facilities for South Korean managers) pick up bits of outside information at the margin and share it with their friends and family back home.  It is not an unreasonable theory.   

A new story in the Daily NK, however, presents evidence which points to ideological contamination on a nationwide scale (irrespective of geography).  The story claims that the city of Haeju is not only thoroughly exposed to South Korean radio and television – it is a production hub of a pirate video market:

“We can receive the TV broadcast of KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) and SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System) fine in Haeju. Sometimes, we can watch MBC (Moonhwa Broadcasting Corporation) as well. I watched Dae Jo Yong (a popular TV drama from KBS) on TV. However, I wanted to watch it again, so I bought a CD and watched it several more time.” He said, “We can get copies of South Korean TV programs from China. However, a great number of copies are also produced in Haeju.”

In a nod to communist efficiency, the subject interviewed in the Daily NK story even claims that in Haeju it is easier to pick up South Korean television signals than those from North Korea! 

With a “manufacturing” facility in Haeju, black market DVDs or VCDs can be copied and distributed throughout the south east even if security is tighter along the Chinese border.  Additionally, these DVDs/VCDs would be cheaper and more widely distributed because they are produced locally (as opposed to using Chinese labor/capital) and will require fewer middlemen to get them across the border and into the hands of consumers.  If this has been going on for some time, then it is safe to assume that most urban centers from Haeju to Pyongyang have regular access to South Korean media! 

Of course a decline in acceptance of the state ideology means the government must rely on external controls (rather than an individual’s self-control) to maintain the system.  The good news is that external controls can be avoided through technolgy, corruption, or both: 

“In the border areas with China and South Korea such as Hwanghae and Kangwon Province, the North Korean authorities try to prevent people from watching S. Korean TV by soldering and pre-tuning TV sets to Chonsun (North Korea) Central TV. Lately, the authorities also attempt to restrict the usage of remote control by covering the sensor with silver paper.

However, North Korean people circumvent the regulation. Instead of giving away their remote control to the authorities, they purchase an extra and watch the TV as they please after removing the silver paper. After all, the authorities’ efforts to control TV channels turn out to be futile for those who have remote control TV sets.

The full article can be found here:
North Korean People Copy South Korean TV Drama for Trade
Daily NK
Lee Sung Jin


4 Responses to “Haeju receives South Korean broadcasts”

  1. How do N.Koreans manage to receive video signals from S.Korea if the TV systems in their respective countries are different? It’s NTSC in SKorea, and PAL in NKorea. You’ll need a very expensive multi-system TV set which would not be tolerated by the NKorean authorities. Alternatively, S.Koreans must start broadcasting some of their programs in PAL (which has never happened before), specifically targeting the N.Korean audience. It would be helpful to hear a technical expert’s opinion.

  2. N. Mercury says:

    My thoughts exactly…regarding how it would be possible at all for North Korean to watch NTSC signals from South Korea on their PAL only TV sets. Something doesn’t make sense about this story…

  3. Stephanie Weil says:

    Multi-system (PAL/NTSC) TV sets in South Korea and China are relatively cheap and easy to get. Especially if you’re talking tiny portables (which is probably what people in the DPRK buy, so they can hide them easily).