North Korea’s most popular electronic gadget has suddenly caught the eye of the authorities who have become fearful that the device makes it too easy to watch forbidden TV stations and videos.
The Chinese-made Notetel may be primitive when compared to an iPhone or Galaxy Note, but its cheap price, small size, availability and functionality have made it a big hit with North Koreans.
While North Koreans love their Notetels for the device’s ability to play DVDs, EVDs, accept USB sticks and SD cards, and its ability to tune in Chinese or South Korean TV stations, that very ability has Pyongyang worried, sources tell RFA’s Korea Service. The EVD, or enhanced video disc, is China’s equivalent to the DVD.
While the North Korean government recently legalized the Notetel, they are apparently having second thoughts, as the sources tell RFA that the authorities are now confiscating the devices.
“The most popular electronic product among North Koreans is Notetel from China,” a source in North Hamgyong province told RFA. “Since people in North Korea are able to watch videos via DVD, USB or SD card with Notetel, and also watch Chinese TV programs with the device, the NK authorities ordered the forfeit Notetels.”
Despite severe penalties, North Koreans appear to have a hunger for media other than the state-sponsored programming they are legally allowed to watch.
“North Korean residents seldom watch domestic TV, considering it a home decoration, rather, they frequently watch a small TV or a Notetel which is easy and quick to hide from sudden inspection,” a source from South Hamgyong province told RFA.
Cost for the device runs from a low of about $33 for the most basic black-and-white model to around $66 for the newest models with the most features, according to the sources. The devices are particularly popular with students who use them for both education and recreation.
“If people adjust the antenna of small TV or Notetel, they can watch South Korean and Chinese TV programs under the blanket even at night,” said the source from North Hamgyong province. “Most students own a Notetel,’ which is intended for education, but it can been also used for watching illegal videos.”
South Korean English study programs are a popular product for Notetel owners, the source said.
“North Korean authorities are even confiscating students’ educational Notetels, but the upper class and executives avoid the authorities’ inspections and keep their children’s educational Notetels.
While Pyongyang wants to keep a lid on outside influences, they also want to ensure that inside influences that they deem inappropriate don’t spread.
“A more important reason the North Korean authorities confiscated the small devices is that besides the outside TV programs and South Korean English programs, there is also the Wangjaesan Light Music Band Dance CD that North Koreans are passing around.”
The band has been the focus of rumors and news reports, some were later discredited, that members of the Wangjaesan Light Music Band Dance and other popular North Korean musicians were executed.
The Wangjaesan Light Music Band’s Dance CD contains decadent scenes such as half-naked women dancing in front of Kim Jong Un, and once the secretive video rapidly spread among residents, Notetel became a target of crackdown.
Reported by Sunghui Moon and Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korea Service. Translated by Hyosun Kim. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.