The European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea (EAHRNK) says the BBC can’t prove whether a hypothetical Korean service would be jammed or not.
Jamming is the deliberate broadcasting of an interfering radio signal on the same channel as a targeted program so it becomes unlistenable.
Shortwave radio is one of the few ways that up-to-date information gets into North Korea and the government engages in aggressive jamming against most broadcasts.
The possibility of jamming and the inability of the North Korean people to hear and broadcasts was one of several issues cited by the BBC as reasons why it will not launch broadcasts in Korean.
Michael Glendinning, a founder of EAHRNK, acknowledges that the authorities might try to target a BBC Korean service, but he thinks the program content would make it less likely to be completely jammed.
“The existing English-language service is perfectly audible in North Korea,” he said. “If the transmitters which are used to broadcast the English service are used and the content remains neutral, the regime would not be so intent to jam it to the same extent as existing Korean-language broadcasting.”
There is some evidence to support his assertion.
The stations most heavily targeted are those run by the South Korean intelligence services, followed by broadcasts from KBS, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. The handful of private stations targeting North Korea are less severely jammed, sometimes only during certain programming.
But the definition of “neutral” is relative, so it’s unclear whether the North Korean government would allow BBC programming, no matter how neutral it is by journalistic standards.
Several groups have called on the BBC to launch a Korean-language service and the corporation did undertake a study, according to a letter sent by British Foreign Secretary William Hague to a U.K. Parliamentary committee.
The letter cited several reasons why the BBC had decided not to go ahead with Korean broadcasts:
“The BBC keeps stating that a major factor in not moving ahead is that the South Korean government [will] make it hard for them to broadcast from South Korea,” said Glendinning.
“This isn’t an issue because the existing signal can be picked up in North Korea, so there’s no need to go ahead with trying to get around the South Korean government’s apathy. If the North Koreans will block the signal from South Korea, the chances are they’ll block from elsewhere, so it’s not really much of an issue to broadcast it from South East Asia.”
Much of the BBC’s current output on shortwave to Asia comes from transmitters in Thailand and Singapore.
The EAHRNK produced a report late last year that puts it case for a Korean-language service.