North Korea Steps Up Jamming

Authorities seek to control the narrative on important political events in December.
2012-12-19
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North Korean TV shows Kim Jong Un (C) bowing during a memorial ceremony to mark the first death anniversary of his father Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, Dec. 17, 2012.
AFP/NORTH KOREAN TV

North Korean authorities have intensified their jamming of foreign radio broadcasts since the beginning of December, blocking signals from South Korea and the United States almost every day during the last month of a year-long period of mourning for the country’s former leader Kim Jong Il, sources in China say.

North Korean jamming is usually sporadic due to electricity outages and the cost of special facilities, but has now been continuous since Dec. 1, said a source in the border city of Dandong, in China's Liaoning province.

“Listening to RFA [Radio Free Asia] and VOA [Voice of America] is almost impossible due to static, which has continued since the first of this month,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A source in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of China’s Jilin province confirmed that static had disrupted reception of RFA broadcasts, adding that broadcasts of South Korea’s KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) were also “getting harder to hear.”

North Korean jamming signals have also interfered with Chinese broadcasts, leaving state-run CRI (China Radio International) programs hard to listen to, said another source, who recently moved to China from Sinuiju, in North Korea.

“[CRI] broadcasting used to have better sound quality than anything coming from South Korea, but they are now hard to hear because North Korea’s National Security Department is sending jamming signals,” he said.

Mourning period

Sources tied the unusual period of unbroken jamming to the first anniversary of the death of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, and said that the jamming will likely continue until the end of December.

Hundreds of thousands of North Korean soldiers and civilians gathered in Pyongyang on Dec. 17 for a mass memorial to the late dictator presided over by his son and successor Kim Jong Un.

But North Korea’s mood of mourning was briefly broken last week by the launch of a long-range rocket that successfully placed a satellite in orbit.

North Korea’s authoritarian leaders typically fear that foreign broadcasts will undermine official narratives of important events, possibly leading to the current period of intensified jamming.

Speaking from Beijing, one observer of North Korean affairs said that if foreign radio is now difficult to listen to in the border regions, it may be “impossible” for a time to hear in North Korea itself.

North Korean authorities usually find it difficult to block all broadcasts, though, he said.

“More than 10 radio stations broadcast into the country from South Korea, and other broadcasts come from the United States and Japan,” the source said.

“They send signals on many different channels, so it is hard for the North Korean government to jam all radio broadcasting from outside the country.”

Reported by Joon Ho Kim for RFA’s Korean service. Translated by Ju Hyeon Park. Written in English by Richard Finney.