Foreign media fostering change in NK regime: study
By Kim Young-jin
North Korean citizens have more access than ever to foreign media, forcing the regime to loosen the crackdowns on such activities and fostering new perceptions of the outside world, a study said Thursday.
The study commissioned by the U.S. State Department showed that while punishments for accessing media such as South Korean DVDs remain tough, actual enforcement has decreased in an apparent sign of the speedy spread of such material.
Carried out by consulting group InterMedia based on interviews with several hundred recent defectors, it also found that fewer citizens report on each other to authorities.
``While it remains the most closed media environment in the world, North Korea has, to a significant extent, opened unofficially since the late 1990s. North Koreans today have significantly greater access to outside information than they did 20 years ago,'' it said.
Pyongyang is known as one of the worst repressors of information in the world and derives power partly by rallying support against “hostile forces” such as Seoul and Washington. Only a few elite-level officials and students have access to the Internet.
The study said things began to change in the 1990s when a devastating famine hindered Pyongyang from enforcement.
The report said half of the respondents had watched such DVDs and a quarter of them listened to news broadcasts beamed across the North’s borders factors that act as an irritant to the regime.
“Positive perceptions of the outside world can call into question many of the North Korean regime’s most central propaganda narratives, which make legitimate the regime by portraying it as the country’s protector from hostile outside forces,” it said.
Such media also creates “a greater space between North Korean citizens and their leaders and between the regime’s portrayal of North Korea and the prevailing reality on the ground.”
The study noted however that the results did not fully represent the North Korean population as many of the interviewees had defected from near the China border.
It also said the changes observed were “very small,” and should be viewed in the context of the country’s long term trajectory.
Still it positively assessed the citizen’s relationship with such media.
North Koreans ``are beginning to look more critically at the basic premises of their country's power structure and policies,'' it said.
In recent years, the North’s populace has had increasing access to technology particularly in the form a mobile phone network that now has over a million subscribers. While average citizens cannot call internationally, analysts say the phones greatly increase the flow of information across the country.