Bill would expand U.S. support for foreign media aimed at DPRK

Balloons carrying propaganda material are launched from Paju, South Korea, towards North Korea on January 15, 2014. (HRF handout)Balloons carrying propaganda material are launched from Paju, South Korea, towards North Korea on January 15, 2014. (HRF handout)

A bill that would strengthen and modernize U.S. support of international media aimed at North Korea was introduced into the U.S. Congress on Wednesday.

House Resolution 4051 (H.R.4051) is being proposed as an amendment to the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004 and expands that bill’s support of shortwave radio broadcasts to include newer means of information dissemination such as USB sticks, DVDs and Websites.

It was introduced by Representative Matt Salmon, an Arizona republican and chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. He said the bill would help “the message of freedom and liberty” penetrate North Korea.

“We have the power to show North Koreans the brighter future that awaits them if the regime gives up its nuclear weapons,” he said in a statement.

North Korea is one of the most closed countries on earth and citizens only have access to state controlled media sources. Foreign newspapers, satellite TV and the Internet are off limits to almost everyone.

Radio is the only way to get timely information into the country, but the government aggressively tries to jam that by broadcasting noise on the same frequency.

Still for years, the U.S., South Korea and defector groups have broadcast shortwave programs into the country in the hope they get through — and there is evidence some do. While audiences might be small, defectors have reported foreign radio broadcasts as an important way they received information.

The North Korea Human Rights Act authorized the president to support such broadcasts and programs that increase the availability of information sources accessible by North Koreans. It specifically mentions radios.

But in recent years, TV shows and movies in electronic form have flooded across the Chinese border and established themselves as a popular albeit forbidden form of entertainment.

H.R.4051 recognizes this by proposing to expand support from radios to include “USB drives, micro SD cards, audio players, video players, cell phones, wi-fi, wireless internet, webpages, internet, wireless telecommunications, and other electronic media that shares information.”

The bill also authorizes the State Dept. to provide grants to organizations so they can develop or distribute devices into North Korea that can receive electronic information services.

It also gives the OK for the U.S. government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Asia stations to broadcast “American, Chinese, Korean and other popular music” to supplement the talk-heavy diet they currently provide. And it instructs the same radio stations to broadcast programming that informs the North Korean audience of the human rights they are guaranteed under North Korean law and international treaties the country has signed up to.

In all, it could signal a major expansion in the amount, type and genre of information being targeted at the North Korean people, and it likely won’t sit well with the regime.

A tight grip on information is one of the main ways it keeps control of its people, and such foreign efforts are intended to sow the seeds of discontent among the North Korean people.

H.R.4051 is cosponsored by Representatives Ed Royce, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, ranking member of the committee, Brad Sherman, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, and Gerald Connolly and Mike Kelly.

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