North Koreans Get Jamming Devices

Nighttime raids and mandatory jamming devices curb North Koreans' already limited access to foreign media.

DPRK Media 305 Video grab of a North Korean television broadcast, Oct. 09, 2006.

SEOUL—Authorities in North Korea are launching a campaign to have jamming devices installed in the home of anyone with a television or radio in a bid to block news reaching its citizens from foreign broadcasters.

As part of supreme leader Kim Jong Il’s “150-day Campaign” aimed at mobilizing North Koreans and boosting production, the North Korean authorities are expanding a crackdown on those who listen to overseas news, according to a defector group in South Korea.

North Koreans manage to gain limited access to foreign media broadcasts despite increasing interference from the isolated Stalinist state, and growing numbers are viewing or listening to media from rival South Korea.

The authorities are conducting an increasing number of nighttime inspections of households to crack down on those watching foreign TV or videos or listening to foreign radio broadcasting."


While channels are fixed on North Korean television sets, they have proved easy to alter, allowing access to South Korean programming.

Defectors at the Seoul-based nongovernment group, North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, said authorities in Pyongyang had issued a directive that all households in these areas have to purchase and install a radio jamming device.

“If people listen to foreign broadcasting, the legitimacy of the official line and the official ideology is in jeopardy,” one defector, a North Korean computer science expert with in-depth knowledge of the media environment, said in an interview.

“That is why the authorities are going to great lengths to crack down on listening to foreign broadcasting, and that is why they are implementing the rather extreme measure of making it compulsory to install miniaturized jamming devices in each household in areas that are likely to have better reception of foreign broadcasts.”

One factory named

He said another directive appeared to have been issued, instructing North Koreans to buy only televisions manufactured at the Daedong-kang Factory in Pyongyang, and that no one should own a television set without a jamming device.

“Since the reception is better in the coastal and border areas, the miniaturized jamming devices are installed free of charge, but deeper inside North Korea households are required to purchase and install the devices,” the defector said.

Officials were telling people that the device would improve reception, and that manual tuning would no longer be necessary with the device installed, he said.

“As they proceed with the ‘150-day Campaign,' the North Korean authorities are cracking down on foreign visual, printed, or recorded material,” the defector said.

“People are now required to have their televisions, radios, and audio or video recorders registered.”

He added: “The authorities are conducting an increasing number of nighttime inspections of households to crack down on those watching foreign TV or videos or listening to foreign radio broadcasting.”

Technologically trained defectors said the devices were fairly low-tech, cheap to produce, and easy to install.

Growing audience

Some experts say as many as 20 percent of citizens in the isolated Stalinist state could now be tuning into overseas media.

A 2005 survey of 300 North Korean defectors in South Korea found that 18 percent had come into contact with South Korean media while still in North Korea.

South Korean videos are popular in North Korea, entering the reclusive country mainly through China. South Korean television drama VCDs and tapes are copied and distributed inside North Korea.

North Korea, one of the world's most reclusive and tightly closed countries, tightly controls its own media and prohibits all but the most elite from accessing foreign media. Punishment for anyone caught listening to foreign media is severe.

But nongovernmental organizations say a brisk trade exists nonetheless in smuggled DVDs from China and South Korea.

One report in 2008 suggested police were routinely cutting electricity to blocks of residential flats and then raiding them to see what DVDs had been jammed in the players.

Original reporting in Korean by J.W. Noh. Acting Korean service director: Francis Huh. Translated by Grigore Scarlatoiu. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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