Radio Free Asia’s Korean service is 15 years old this year, and in celebration the network has set up an interesting web page celebrating the anniversary. The service broadcasts five hours of programming a day, seven days a week and can be heard on nine medium and shortwave frequencies to maximize the chances it will be heard. The station broadcasts breaking news on North Korea, but also analysis, stories of the lives of ordinary North Koreans, coverage of defectors and relevant international news.
From the outset, RFA drew on defectors; staff now includes a former North Korean Army artillery company commander, diplomat, professor, engineer, concert pianist, trade official, journalist, and student.
RFA Korea is not simply an aggregator of existing news, but has broken important stories; the anniversary website has a nice chronology of them. Among the more notorious stories the RFA broke was indirect evidence that the North Koreans were in fact responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan in the form of a poster—reproduced below—that says “we will smash you with a single blow if attacked.” RFA also maintains a useful website that we consult from time to time.
It is difficult to gauge impact. The network commissioned a survey by an independent media research group in 2010 which found that 27 percent of the North Korean refugees surveyed in China listened to foreign media, with RFA topping the list. This probably overstates the wider audience but is broadly consonant with our findings in Witness to Transformation about the incidence of access to media among defectors. We do our part by talking to the RFA reporters when we can. Maintaining diverse foreign broadcasting into North Korea is an important task, and RFA plays a central role in that effort.