Will more radio to North Korea bring freedom to North Korea?

Posted: 14 Apr 2010

"North Koreans willing to tamper with their government radios or buy a $3 radio smuggled in from China have a wide range of choices. Over a dozen radio stations from the United States, South Korea and Japan currently broadcast to North Korea. Voice of America (VOA), one of the most popular stations, has been broadcasting to the North since 1942, while the equally popular Radio Free Asia (RFA) began its Korean service soon after its establishment by Congress in 1997. VOA focuses on news of the U.S. and the world, while RFA concentrates on North Korea and life for the nearly 20,000 defectors in the South. ... While we must be careful not to draw too many conclusions from samples that are far from random, it is not unreasonable to surmise that there are more than a million surreptitious listeners in a population of 24 million. ... We can do much more to improve broadcasting to North Korea. VOA and RFA only broadcast five hours a day, and the defector stations limp along on shoestring budgets due to widespread public indifference in South Korea." Peter Beck, Wall Street Journal, 14 April 2010.
     If Mr. Beck's description of VOA versus RFA were true, it would mean that North Koreans would have to tune to RFA to get part of the news, and to VOA to get the rest of the news. So instead of an unsatisfactory situation subjecting North Korean listeners to inconvenience, we have an unsatisfactory situation in which two U.S. funded stations duplicate one another's efforts.
     VOA and RFA each broadcast five hours a day, and not concurrently, for a total of ten hours a day. These are the key evening, late-night, and morning listening hours. Additional broadcasts would occur during working hours, yielding diminished returns for the extra expense.
     A million listeners? Maybe, but we can't conclude that based on any of the available surveys of North Korean defectors. We do know the audience size in North Korea is above zero. Some of the Chinese radios are cheap, but I'm not aware of any decent models with a shortwave band costing three dollars.
     It is not only indifference in South Korea, but also policy considerations, which prevents the defector stations transmitting from South Korea (including on medium wave, audible on more North Korean radio sets than shortwave).

     "The Unification Ministry in Seoul has reiterated its call for civic groups to refrain from scattering propaganda leaflets over North Korea, saying the move does nothing to help improve inter-Korean relations. ... Civic groups that support North Korean escapees, including Fighters for Free North Korea, announced earlier that they would send anti-North Korea leaflets via balloons over the border from the Imjingak Pavilion at the western border on Thursday, the birthday of North Korea founder Kim Il-sung." KBS World Radio, 14 April 2010. See previous post about balloons to North Korea.

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