North Koreans’ access to TV and DVD players

During a famine in the North in the mid-1990s, the Kim regime began to tolerate illegal trade because it was the only option to feed a starving population. Since then, black-market commerce has been nearly impossible to stamp out. And some of the hottest commodities—particularly for young people who don’t even remember a North Korea before that underground trade existed—have been foreign music and movies, along with the Chinese-made gadgets to play them.

A 2010 study by the US Broadcasting Board of Governors found that 74 percent of North Koreans have access to a TV and 46 percent can access a DVD player. Thanks to the flourishing black market, the jangmadang generation’s technology has advanced well beyond radios and DVDs. Despite North Korea’s near-complete lack of Internet access, there are close to 3.5 million PCs in the country and 5 million tablets, according to North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity.

North Korean defector Kang Chol hwan, holding a notel.

Perhaps the most important piece of hardware in North Korea today is what’s known as a notel—a small, portable video player sold for $60 to $100 and capable of handling multiple formats. It has a screen, a rechargeable battery to deal with frequent blackouts, and crucially, USB and SD card ports. In a surprise move in December, the North Korean government legalized the devices, perhaps as part of a bid to modernize its propaganda machine, according to Seoul-based news outlet Daily NK. The result is millions of ready customers for the USB sticks smuggled across the Chinese border.

In one of North Korea’s bustling markets, a buyer might quietly ask for something “fun,” meaning foreign, or “from the village below,” referring to South Korea. The seller may lead him or her to a private place, often someone’s home, before turning over the goods. The foreign data is then consumed on a notel among small, discreet groups of mostly young people, friends who enter into an unspoken pact of breaking the law together so that no one can rat out anyone else.                                                    Read more

North Korean anti-South-Korea propaganda falling on unbelieving ears

North Korean textbooks describe South Korea as a “fascist, military dictatorship” filled with “poverty and starvation,” but fewer and fewer North Koreans are buying the propaganda.

North Korean textbooks teach that South Korea is dominated by “foreign powers” that trample on the Korean people and “taint” its history, language and way of life. The North also teaches students that the U.S. must be driven out and South Korea liberated. Textbooks say U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea “fire guns in broad daylight, plunder homes and rape women.” There are also rumors that North Korean defectors have their “eyes gouged out and limbs severed” if they go to South Korea.

But North Koreans from all walks of life prize South Korean-made products. One North Korean trader who crossed over the border into China said South Korean products are traded illicitly in open-air markets and can be sold at high prices if the removed labels are shown to customers.

Another North Korean said, “North Koreans know people in the South are better off, because they watch South Korean TV shows and movies. High-ranking officials and fairly well-off families all have South Korean products at home.”

Around 12 million North Koreans are believed to have access to South Korean TV shows. A government source said South Korean TV can be accessed from areas south of Sinuiju in North Pyongan Province and Wonsan in Kangwon Province.

A survey of 200 North Korean defectors last month by Media Research showed 70.5 percent of them had watched South Korean TV and other media content in the North.

[Chosun Ilbo]