North Korean defectors speak out on TV shows about them

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As the co-founder of the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR), and while a guest on a South Korean TV show, we asked North Korean refugees to let us know what they think about the various TV shows featuring North Korean refugees. Below are some of their thoughts:

Han, female, escaped from North Korea in 1998, arrived in 2001 – I arrived in South Korea when there were few North Korean refugees here. I wish those kind of shows would have been in the media then. So many South Koreans assumed we were criminals or losers, or accused us of abandoning our families. The shows aren’t perfect, but one good benefit is that they have introduced many South Koreans to everyday North Korean refugees. A second good benefit is that it has an influence on North Korean refugees who have escaped to China. Many of them there watch TV shows from South Korea, so they have a better idea of what life is like here. In that way, the TV shows are better than the Hanawon re-education center at introducing refugees to South Korea.

Jihyang, female, escaped from North Korea in 2011, arrived in South Korea in 2016 – I hear some criticism of the shows, but I see more good than bad from them. After I graduated from college, I hoped to be on one of those shows. …In North Korea, I would never have a chance to be on TV saying what I think. It is almost impossible to be on TV in North Korea unless you have demonstrated your loyalty to the regime. But here, I can get on TV, it doesn’t matter if I praise or criticize the president or other leaders, there is the opportunity here in South Korea for my voice to be heard.

Hyang-mi, female, escaped from North Korea in 2009, arrived in South Korea in 2010 – I can’t trust the panelists on those shows. I know one of the ladies on one of the shows. We are from the same hometown. I can really see when she exaggerates about things, and …she will present those exaggerations as being true of all of North Korea. I can understand when the panelists criticize the leaders in North Korea, but I can’t understand why they criticize everyday North Koreans. The people still there are victims of the leaders. We should be more understanding about their situations. My neighbors and friends were great.

Eungyeong, female, escaped from North Korea in 2013, arrived in South Korea in 2015 – Overall, I have a really negative view of those shows. I can’t believe how often they exaggerate and lie about North Korea. I have to turn the shows off because I get so upset sometimes. But I also can see that there is some good that comes from them. If not for them, then South Koreans would know almost nothing about life in North Korea. If there could be a better way to check facts on the show and to prevent the panelists from exaggerating, then the show would be even better.

Minsu, male, escaped from North Korea in 2009, arrived in South Korea in 2010 – I have been asked to be on the shows, but so far I have said no. It can be messy getting into that media world. …I am amazed that people complain about those TV shows so much. They are just TV shows, not something that presents every truth about everything about North Korea. It can give us a taste of what life is like in North Korea and about the experiences of people who have escaped. I have met some of the refugees on the TV shows, they are good people, they have many interesting and informative things to say, and it can be really entertaining. I respect and admire those who are willing to be identified as being from North Korea and are willing to speak out. They would never have a chance to present their stories when they were in North Korea. In North Korea, the government would have tried to destroy them. Here, it is netizens and researchers who are trying to “destroy” them.

[Korea Times Opinion page]

This entry was posted in by Grant Montgomery.

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