The decision was relayed in a letter from British Foreign Secretary William Hague to the U.K. Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. The BBC World Service is currently funded by a grant from the Hague’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, although that’s about to change.
“The World Service has re-examined the case for broadcasts into North Korea, considering both the feasibility of such broadcasts and how effective they would be in reaching North Korean audiences,” the letter said.
“On the basis of this work, the World Service board recently reached the conclusion that it is not currently possible for the World Service to offer a meaningful, effective and cost-effective service.”
Hague’s letter was sent earlier in January, just a couple of weeks after several U.K. politicians backed a campaign to get a BBC Korean service on the air.
The campaign was launched by a group called “The European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea (EAHRNK)” and argues that North Koreans would benefit from independent sources of news and radio is the best way of doing that.
Hague’s letter detailed some of the reasoning behind the BBC board’s decision.
Here’s an examination of the claims:
- “A shortwave radio service would reach an insignificant percentage of the population due to a combination of low numbers of shortwave-capable radios, ignorance of different wavebands and DPRK signal jamming.”
This is an interesting finding, especially given the current presence of the roughly ten radio stations that use shortwave to reach North Korea.
To be sure, there’s no sure way to know exactly how many people are listening to the programs, although surveys of defectors – the only audience research possible because it takes place outside of the country – indicate at least some North Koreans are listening.
A 2010 survey carried out by BBG, the umbrella organization that runs Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, found 27 percent of 250 defectors surveyed reported listening to foreign radio. That includes both South Korean stations broadcasting on mediumwave (AM) and shortwave broadcasts.
In its 2012 report “A Quiet Opening,” InterMedia, the company that conducts audience surveys for BBG, said that DVDs had been the most effective vehicle for foreign media in North Korea, with 48 percent of respondents reporting their use.
“However, radio occupies a unique space in the North Korean media environment, as the only real-time, direct source of sensitive outside news available nationwide. From the perspective of those attempting to deliver outside information, the relative speed and ease of disseminating content into North Korea from abroad, via radio, gives broadcasting a distinct distribution advantage over other media types that must be smuggled into the country.”
The BBC does have a point about jamming.
North Korea aggressively jams foreign radio broadcasts by broadcasting noise on the same frequency so that it mixes with the foreign program and makes listening difficult.
However, it’s worth noting that the DPRK only possesses a finite number of transmitters capable of jamming, so more stations on the air mean a higher chance that any one station will get through. That still doesn’t guarantee a clean signal for the BBC.
- “South Korean regulations currently prevent foreign broadcasters from broadcasting FM or mediumwave radio from South Korea.”
South Korea, like Japan and China, are very strictly regulated media markets. To-date, it has proved impossible for any foreign or private broadcasters to construct transmitters in the country for the purpose of reaching the North Korean audience.
Current shortwave programming comes from a variety of locations, including the Mariana Islands and Uzbekistan.
The closest any broadcaster has come is BBG, which has managed to put some of its programs on mediumwave by leasing time on the powerful 1,118kHz transmitter of religious station Far East Broadcasting Co. (FEBC) in Seoul.
Open Radio for North Korea has also managed to broadcast from within South Korea by taking time on a local MBC affiliated station in Chuncheon, near the border. It broadcasts on 774kHz and 92.3 FM for an hour from 4am local time.
- It would be impossible to offer a TV service that would not be blocked by the government.
While the InterMedia report noted the viewing of foreign TV broadcasts inside the DPRK, this was reception of signals from domestic South Korean and Chinese stations that spilled over the border. Any targeting of North Korea with TV broadcasts would almost certainly result in jamming that would be much more effective than on shortwave.
Internet and Smartphones
- Mobile or Internet services would achieve very low or insignificant impact given access is strictly limited to political elites and both North Korea networks are effectively cut off from the rest of the world.
The BBC is right here. There’s no way to get content to North Korean smartphones or computer screens using the current networks. Any attempt, even by elites, to access BBC sites would almost certainly be detected.
Hague’s letter also noted that BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC that sells its programming overseas, is engaged with trying to get its programming aired on Korean Central Television. That would likely be non-factual content such as dramas, children’s TV shows and documentaries.
“In the long term, this is a good way to improve understanding about the outside world within such a closed society,” Hague concluded.
If you use an Apple iPhone or iPad, there’s a new app that lets you stay current with news from the Korean Central News Agency.
IJuche is the product of work by Peter Curtis, who says he became fascinated with the DPRK after reading Andrew Holloway’s “A Year in Pyongyang.”
“When I decided that I wanted to try my hand at iOS app development, I asked myself what sort of app I’d like to see on my iPhone and iPad that nobody else had written already,” he said.
And so came the idea to focus on North Korea.
“As your readers most likely know, official DPRK websites don’t tend to be terribly elegant or readable, and the problems are compounded on mobile devices. I could generally drag myself to the KCNA website once every few months when I thought about it for some reason, but never bothered to try keeping up with it,” said Curtis.
“With that in mind, I figured out what sort of iPhone/iPad app I could make that would be useful to me, and, ideally, a few other folks.”
The app queries the kcna.co.jp website daily and pulls in new headlines and articles and presents them in an easy-to-read interface. The Japanese site isn’t quite as fast in updating news as the kcna.kp site, which is based in Pyongyang, but the code behind the site is simpler and so easier to work with.
“In my own case, I simply love that I can be sitting in a bar, lying in bed, or what have you, and pull out my phone in a moment of boredom to see the latest announcements from North Korea. When KCNA is this much more accessible, it’s easier to follow ongoing narratives.”
iJuche can be found in the Apple App Store.
Here’s a couple of screenshots from the app.
First, the iPad app:
And the iPhone app:
For the second year in a row, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appeared on state TV and radio on January 1 to deliver a new year address to his nation.
The direct address was something of a surprise when it happened last year as Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, was rarely heard speaking on state media. For many years, he delivered his annual address through an editorial in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper.
This year’s speech comes at an interesting time, happening just weeks after Jang Song Thaek was arrested and executed for crimes against the state. Reports suggest a major purge of Jang’s allies continues into the new year.
The speech touched on that and several other issues of importance to the government and much has already been written about that. I thought I’d look at how the speech was delivered rather than what was said.
One of the most notable things about this year’s speech was how little Kim Jong Un was actually on screen.
The speech began with an introductory frame.
And quickly cut to a medium-angle shot of Kim Jong Un walking towards a dais with papers in his hand. While it’s impossible to tell what those papers were, we’re likely intended to conclude it’s a copy of the speech.
The Workers’ Party of Korea symbol adorns the dais, the wall behind and a flag placed nearby.
This appears to be exactly the same spot from where the 2013 address was delivered, although a year earlier there were several floral arrangements also placed nearby.
When the speech begins, viewers are alternated between the following three shots: a medium shot of Kim, a tight shot and a still image of the Workers’ Party of Korea central committee hall.
The cameras both face Kim from an angle, perhaps intended to add to the illusion that he is speaking to an audience.
Switching between cameras and a still image can be used to provide variety to the viewer and can also be used as an editing trick to mask places where a speech was edited, perhaps if a part needed to be repeated because of a stumble on words or a part was later removed or added.
The speech was introduced with applause although an audience was never shown. Kim Jong Un is the only person seen throughout the entire broadcast.
It included 32 pieces of applause. All ranged from 5- to 7-seconds long with the exception of the opening round at 14 seconds, a piece a few minutes in at 8 seconds and the closing round at just under 10 seconds.
In all, the 26 minute and 19 second speech was interrupted with 3 minutes and 23 seconds of applause.
The applause all sounds uniform and the lack of audience shots means it’s difficult to conclude that an audience was present.
But what’s perhaps more interesting than possibly canned applause is Kim Jong Un’s screen time.
The editor alternated between the two shots of Kim Jong Un and the still image of the Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee Headquarters for the first two minutes of the speech then went to the still image continuously for the next 23 minutes, only returning to a mix of shots in the last minute of the broadcast.
In total, Kim Jong Un was seen speaking for just 2 minutes 12 seconds of the entire broadcast.
In the 2013 speech, a similar image of the WPK building was also shown, but Kim Jong Un got much more screen time.
Here’s the entire broadcast:
A group called The European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea (EAHRNK) has published a report making a case for such a service and just launched an online petition.
In its report, EAHRNK argues that North Korean citizens need independent sources of news and information and that radio broadcasts provide the best way of delivering that to the country.
Several radio stations are already doing just this – Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, South Korea’s KBS and private stations run by North Korean defectors are on the air everyday – but that doesn’t mean the BBC’s voice would be duplicative, the report says.
“By virtue of the BBC being a British organisation, its programming would carry significantly less political baggage than that of US-funded broadcasters or services run by the ROK or North Korean defectors,” the report claims.
The report can be downloaded here.
At time of writing, the online petition has 115 signatures and needs a total of 1,000. It’s addressed to Peter Horrocks, director of the BBC World Service, and asks him to consider launching a Korean service.
The idea of a BBC World Service broadcast in Korean isn’t new. It was floated earlier this year and a 2012 report called “A Golden Opportunity” also argued for the establishment of a service. But the BBC World Service has been cutting language services in recent years as it has faced reductions in its annual budget. Adding services hasn’t been a priority.
The recent execution of Jang Song Thaek provided a platform for the proposed BBC broadcasts to be brought up in the British parliament on 16 December.
Fiona Bruce MP, vice chair of the all party parliamentary group on North Korea, asked UK Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Hugo Swire about the chances of such a service.
“Given that a major weapon in ending Stalin’s reign of terror was the role that this country played by broadcasting the BBC World Service and breaking the Soviet information blockade — the same has been done more recently with the Burmese information blockade — and given the Foreign Secretary’s role in setting the World Service’s strategic objectives, will the Minister consider extending the BBC World Service to the Korean peninsula?,” Bruce asked in a parliamentary question.
Swire noted that the U.K.’s embassy in Pyongyang is working to bring BBC drama, nature and science programs to North Korean television.
“We believe that that has the potential to expose significant numbers of North Koreans to aspects of the outside world from which they are normally totally isolated,” he said of that plan.
Swire was later pushed on that answer by Gisela Stuart, a Labour MP for Birmingham, Edgbaston.
“Will the Minister have slightly more robust conversations with the BBC, encourage it to look at the issue of transmitters into North Korea and point out to it that BBC documentaries and drama, however entertaining they may be, are not really the answer? What is needed is the World Service and access,” she said.
Swire responded by saying it would be a decision for the BBC to make, and indicated he didn’t think it proper that the government pressure the corporation to launch such a service.
“There are reasons to do it and there are reasons not to do it, but at the end of the day, the BBC has the independence to decide where and to whom to broadcast.”
Here’s video of the question and answer period on North Korea.
A South Korean businessman has been arrested by local authorities on suspicion of passing classified information and video and audio system technology to North Korea, Yonhap reported on Saturday.
The report said the suspect, identified only as a 54-year-old man called “Kang,” worked with agents of North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau to pass the information. He regularly traveled to China and made contact with the agents directly and through email.
Few other pieces of information were available.
The case could be interesting because the Reconnaissance General Bureau is the Korean People’s Army unit responsible for spying activities, including infiltration of South Korea and electronic surveillance.
I mentioned it in February last year when writing about a large satellite monitoring station on the outskirts of Pyongyang. The monitoring station is located close to the bureau’s headquarters.
As noted in that article, the Reconnaissance General Bureau was named in U.S. Executive Order 13382 that set out trade sanctions. Here’s what the U.S. government said about it in August 2010:
The Reconnaissance General Bureau is North Korea’s premiere intelligence organization, created in early 2009 by the merger of existing intelligence organizations from the Korean Workers’ Party, the Operations Department and Office 35, and the Reconnaissance Bureau of the Korean People’s Army. RGB trades in conventional arms and controls the North Korean conventional arms firm Green Pine Associated Corporation (Green Pine), which was also identified for sanctions by the President today for exporting arms or related materiel from North Korea.
Its headquarters were located after TV footage was broadcast of a visit there by Kim Jong Il in early 2010.
The unit was reorganized in 2009/10 and 38 North published an extensive analysis:
Recent changes during 2009-2010—the most dramatic reorganization in years— seem to have been implemented to unify all the intelligence and internal security services directly under the National Defense Commission (NDC) and to secure the position of Kim Chong-il’s son, Kim Chong-un, as his successor. — 38 North Special Report
North Korean state media’s coverage of the arrest, trial and subsequent execution of Jang Song Thaek was “tantamount to mass intimidation,” Reporters Without Borders said on Thursday.
“Although only to be expected from one of the world’s worst dictatorships, such manipulation of news and information is disturbing,” the Paris-based group said in a statement.
“The extensive and indeed staged coverage of this execution coinciding with the hyped coverage of the second anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s death had the hallmarks of a intimidatory message to the entire Korean population and the international community.”
One of the things that made Jang’s arrest notable was the way it was done in public. State TV, radio and newspapers devoted a considerable amount of time to denouncing him for what were at the time accused crimes. Later in the week, the media carried news of his trial, his apparent admission of guilt and his execution.
That was followed by an information purge that has seen thousands of articles removed from the websites of the state-run Korean Central News Agency and party-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper.
“This propaganda has highlighted the harshness of a regime that has not hesitated to execute one of the party’s most senior officials, a four-star general and uncle of the currently leader. Such an atmosphere of terror will weigh heavily on the little freedom of information remaining in such a closely-watched society,” Reporters without Borders said.
North Korea ranks at position 178 on the group’s press freedom index – one place from the bottom. The only nation ranked below the DPRK was Eritrea.
Time Magazine has named David Guttenfelder its top Instagram photographer of the year for his on-going series of photos that chronicle life in North Korea.
Guttenfelder, chief Asia photographer for the Associated Press, has made numerous journeys to the DPRK over the past several years and began directly chronicling the country through Instagram earlier this year when North Korean opened up its cellphone network to foreigners.
One of the most attractive aspects of the pictures, especially from the point of view of those who follow North Korea closely, is that Guttenfelder’s photographs capture little moments of life not often seen. There’s the announcer explaining a movie on state TV, the Kim Il Sung badge in its packaging, the empty banquet room waiting for guests, and the couples dancing in the street.
“Guttenfelder’s year of work chips beneath the pariah state’s absurd façade,” Time said. “In his Instagram pictures, we see the spectral emptiness of Pyongyang’s Orwellian city blocks, the hushed quiet of passengers in buses, the coiled patterns of a carpet in an otherwise non-descript waiting room.”
The reports, in English, are reproduced below.
The first report ran on December 9 and covered the meeting of the political bureau of the central committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea, at which Jang was accused of a series of crimes against the state and led away by soldiers.
The political bureau of the party center committee convened the enlarged meeting and discussed the issue about the anti-party, counter-revolutionary factionalist acts of Jang Song Thaek. At the meeting, his anti-party, counter-revolutionary factionalist acts and the harmful and reactionary nature were exposed
The report runs to 5 minutes.
The second report came two days later and was much shorter at just 18 seconds.
The final report, on December 13, covered the military trial and Jang’s execution and ran to six and a half minutes.
It ended with the same chilling line as KCNA’s English-language story.
The decision was immediately executed.
The recordings are courtesy of the World Radio Network, which until this weekend was recording Voice of Korea’s satellite broadcasts and making them available online. That service was discontinued on December 15 as part of the reorganization of the London-based group’s operations.