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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

“A Quiet Opening”

by | May 11th, 2012 | 05:59 am

Yesterday Intermedia released “A Quiet Opening” a study of North Korea’s changing media environment by Nat Kretchum and Jane Kim.  I had the good fortune to be one of the discussants at the report’s release event, along with Martyn Williams of the NK Tech blog whose work we have often cited. It is an excellent report and one that is well worth reading.

The report is based on a survey of 250 North Korean refugees and travelers. The results largely coincide with ones that Steph Haggard and I obtained in Witness to Transformation, though the new report contains much more information on the consumption of foreign media due to its more narrow focus. Among the key findings:

The number of North Koreans with access to outside media is rising steadily;

  • foreign TV viewing is popular in areas near the Chinese and South Korean borders;
  • DVDs have become the most common mode of accessing foreign media;
  • Radio broadcasts remain an important source of real-time and politically sensitive news.

This growth of foreign media consumption has coincided with an increased willingness among North Koreans to share information with those they trust or to consume the information communally,

And that there is a strong correlation between

  • consumption of foreign media and positive perceptions of the outside world,
  • but not between consumption of outside media and negative attitudes toward the North Korean government.

That final finding is one of the few places in which “A Quiet Opening” and Witness to Transformation diverge: we found that consumption of foreign media was associated with more negative views of the regime and a greater willingness to hold the regime accountable for the country’s situation.

The results from “A Quiet Opening,” particularly with respect to the decreasing inhibition on group consumption, are hopeful. The issue now is how to get more outside sources of information into the hands of North Koreans.  We need a multi-media strategy, employing different technologies and programming to reach audiences which the report finds are increasingly differentiated by their media preferences. One obvious tack is more funding for RFA and similar groups, as well as more transmitters in Japan and South Korea. There is also room for other approaches, however, such as the use of MP3s, thumb drives,  and smart phones.