Cablegate: Private Broadcasting to North Korea


DE RUEHUL #1141/01 1090729
P 190729Z APR 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Fueled by foreign funding, three
Seoul-based radio stations are broadcasting news, information
about defection, entertainment and other programming into the
DPRK via shortwave platforms located overseas. The three --
Free NK Radio (FreeNK), Open Radio for North Korea
(OpenRadio) and Radio Free Chosun (RFC) -- have emerged in
response to a perception that ROKG broadcasts to the North
have become "diluted" by the Sunshine Policy and that Voice
of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) are "too
American." Although the extent of the DPRK shortwave radio
audience is unknown, proponents believe that the availability
of inexpensive radios from China and a weakening of central
government control may make broadcasting an increasingly
viable way of reaching out to the North Korean people. END


2. (SBU) ROKG official broadcasting is conducted through the
Korean Broadcasting Service (KBS). Producer Park Myung-gyu
told us that the KBS began its DPRK broadcasting in 1948 as
the "Free Sound of Korea," an anti-Communist effort targeting
ethnic Koreans in North Korea, China and the USSR. KBS
changed the name to the Social Education Service (SES) in
1972 pursuant to a North-South agreement that the two
countries would not slander one another. KBS directs its
programs not specifically to the DPRK, but rather to ethnic
Koreans living in Northeast Asia.

3. (SBU) Park said that, in accordance with the Sunshine
Policy, SES has modified its programs over the past decade to
reflect the ROKG's focus on promoting reconciliation and
cooperation with the DPRK. Its current objective is to
inform ethnic Koreans about regional current events,
religion, and ROK pop culture. Some programming, however, is
tailored to a North Korean audience. A program called
"Unification Train," for example, invites resettled North
Koreans to discuss their experiences, while another program,
"Faces We Long to See, Voices We Long to Hear," focuses on
the stories of separated families. SES broadcasts 24-hours
per day.

--------------------------------------------- ----------

4. (SBU) FreeNK, OpenRadio, and RFC have emerged -- with
substantial assistance from the National Endowment for
Democracy (NED) -- in response to a perception that SES
programming has become too diluted under recent ROK
administrations. The ROKG is too concerned about upsetting
the DPRK, explained one station representative. Another
pointed out that SES is of only limited effectiveness because
it neither focuses on the DPRK, nor uses North Korean
defectors as announcers. While the broadcasters were
generally supportive of VOA and RFA, which broadcast between
three and four hours of Korean-language programming per day,
some thought that the two stations were too closely
associated with the United States to attract a widespread
North Korean audience.


5. (SBU) FreeNK is a shortwave station (11750 kHz) which
broadcasts daily from 19:00 until 20:00 and, starting from
May 1, from 05:30 until 06:30 at 7390 kHz. This relatively
short broadcast period is based on available funding.
Programming, which Director Kim Seong-min characterized as
"mental food" for North Koreans, typically involves
interviews with resettled North Koreans or North Korea
specialists about the DPRK, current events, separated
families, advice about defection, warnings about human
trafficking, and success stories from successfully resettled
North Koreans. According to Kim, the station strives to
produce objective and accurate reports that would allow North
Korean listeners to make their own decisions. FreeNK also
broadcasts entertainment programming, such as a drama based
on anecdotes from one of Kim Jong-il's bodyguards.

6. (SBU) Six of FreeNK's ten staff members are resettled
North Koreans, including one who used to be an announcer in
the DPRK. According to Kim, North Korean listeners feel more
comfortable with North Korean broadcasters and are more
likely to trust the message if it is delivered in a familiar
accent. The programs are recorded in Seoul on digital MP3
files and sent to VT Group, a British company which operates
a commercial shortwave radio network. Kim said that VT Group
broadcasts the programs into the DPRK from Taiwan.

7. (SBU) As an indicator of success, Kim noted that the DPRK
in official media has denounced FreeNK as "trash" and advised
that FreeNK's building "should be blown up." Kim, though
proud of the recognition, takes these threats seriously. He
said that leftist South Korean groups, such as Tongilyeondae
and Hancheongyon, have organized protests, sometimes violent,
in front of FreeNK's office. According to Kim, FreeNK has
also received threatening phone calls and packages, including
a bloody ax. Two plainclothes police officers are at all
times stationed in front of FreeNK offices, which are

8. (SBU) Domestic political opposition has made funding
difficult. Kim said that he at first relied primarily on
defector donations, which were insufficient. FreeNK was able
to begin regular broadcasts after it received a USD 150,000
National Endowment for Democracy (NED) grant in 2005. It
received another USD 200,000 from NED in 2006, and an
additional USD 20,000 from Freedom House. Kim was upbeat
about funding prospects for 2007. He said that FreeNK might
receive USD 300,000 from the Bureau of Democracy, Human
Rights and Labor through a grant arranged by the Defense
Freedom Forum. In addition, he was optimistic that FreeNK
could sell advertising on its website.


9. (SBU) Echoing FreeNK's President Kim, OpenRadio President
Young Howard said that his station also provides "food for
the North Korean mind." Howard said that although OpenRadio
implicitly works for regime change in the DPRK, its public
purpose is to promote conversation between the people of
North and South Korea, which is necessary for "true
reconciliation" between the two Koreas. OpenRadio, which
operates out of a storefront marked "Construction," has been
on the air since July 2006, has a staff of six, and currently
broadcasts from 23:00 to 24:00 at 7390 kHz.

10. (SBU) Unlike FreeNK, OpenRadio generally does not
produce its own material, but instead airs content provided
by 10 non-governmental organizations, including Freedom House
and the International Republican Institute, and 15
universities. OpenRadio programming generally consists of
drama, music, education, health care, news, language
instruction, or civic education. In a typical civic
education program, defectors and South Koreans would talk
about different types of political systems and compare the
South and North Korean systems. Howard said that because
North Koreans are most concerned about their finances,
OpenRadio also broadcasts a program on how to make money.
OpenRadio sends the digitally formatted programming to VT
Group for transmission into North Korea from sites in
Malaysia, Taiwan, Kyrgyzstan, and elsewhere.

11. (SBU) OpenRadio's support base tends to be more
progressive than FreeNK's mostly conservative backers because
any individual or group can participate by contributing
content. As a result, said Howard, OpenRadio has attracted
student and other groups who "think it's a humanitarian
project." Howard said that Radio 21, a pro-Roh Moo-hyun
organization, is one of its contributors. Financially,
OpenRadio receives USD 200,000 from NED, USD 25,000 from
Freedom House and about USD 75,000 from donations.

12. (SBU) Marketing a radio program which is illegal for its
target audience is a challenge, said Howard. Without further
elaboration, he said that OpenRadio capitalizes on the
relatively free flow of CDs, DVDs, and VCDs across the North
Korea-China border. (NOTE: NKNet Secretary General Kim
Yun-tae recently told us that "some radio organizations"
advertise the frequency and time of their programming at the
end of CDs, DVDs, and other media bound for North Korea via
the border areas of China. END NOTE.).


13. (SBU) Radio Free Chosun (RFC) is the most secretive of
the private broadcasting groups. It records thirty minutes
of programming each day from an undisclosed location in
Seoul. Even when meeting with us, RFC would only meet in the
office of a separate organization, NKNet, and was circumspect
about revealing the identity of the representatives we met,
Assistant Director "Ms. Park," and Editor "Mr. Chung," a
North Korean defector.

14. (SBU) RFC has six full-time and three part-time staff,
Park said, and operates on a USD 200,000 NED grant,
additional Freedom House funding, and help from NKNet. Like
the other alternative stations, RFC also contracts with an
unidentified third party to broadcast its programming into
North Korea from a platform outside the ROK. RFC broadcasts
original programming between 05:00 and 05:30 at 9785 kHz, and
replays the broadcast between 22:30 and 23:00 at 9485 kHz.

15. (SBU) RFC creates its own programming. Its major
current project is a serial drama based on the life of Kim
Jong-il. Fifteen actors volunteer to play 70 parts in the
50-episode series, starting from "debunking the myth of Kim
Jong-il's birth." According to Park, the drama will allow
the North Korean people to make their own decisions regarding
their leadership.


16. (SBU) It is difficult to estimate the number of North
Koreans in the DPRK who listen to foreign radio broadcasts.
In a 2005 survey conducted by the NGO NK Database, over 18
percent of 291 resettled North Koreans said that they had
heard foreign radio broadcasts while in the DPRK. Among this
group, all of whom left the DPRK after 2003, the most popular
program was KBS's Social Education Program (10.52 percent),
followed by Radio Free Asia (3.61 percent), Voice of America
(.65 percent) and Radio Free NK (.65 percent).

17. (SBU) According to a May 2005 InterMedia survey of 200
defectors, 10 percent of defectors listened to VOA and 3.5
percent listened to RFA at least once a week while in the
DPRK. FreeNK's Kim said that a 2006 Christian Council of
Korea survey found that 17 percent of resettled North Koreans
had listened to FreeNK. Reflecting on his own experience,
Howard from OpenRadio believes that there are many broadcast
listeners ("BCLs") who scan radio channels late at night,
just as South Korean student activists used to listen to
North Korean broadcasts in the 1980s.

18. (SBU) RFC's Chung, who listened to foreign broadcasting
from the 1980s until his 2003 defection, claimed 70 percent
of North Koreans, and perhaps 100 percent of those near the
DPRK-China border, possess radios. Representatives of
FreeNK, OpenRadio and RFC all agreed that most North Korean
listeners receive the broadcasts on shortwave radios smuggled
across the border from China. According to OpenRadio's
Howard, small, digital radios are readily available in border
areas of China and even in North Korean markets for about USD
5. NKNet Secretary General Kim Yun-tae said that radios are
available in the DPRK for about USD 10. Most have
AM/FM/shortwave reception, as well as tape recorders which
provide "legitimate" cover that could protect the owner if
discovered by authorities, Kim said.

19. (SBU) There appear to be other sources of shortwave
radios as well. FreeNK's Kim said that diplomats or others
with travel privileges sometimes carry radios into the
country. Kim also said that the ROK National Intelligence
Service sent numerous radios into the DPRK by balloon prior
to 2002. Some NGOs are also engaged in sending radios into
the DPRK. An evangelical Christian Group, TWR, told us that
it had distributed "thousands" of radios in North Korea.

20. (SBU) While listeners still expose themselves to
considerable risk by tuning into foreign broadcasting, there
is a perception among broadcasters that the risk is
diminishing. Societal control is collapsing, said RFC's
Chung, and the regime is no longer able to enforce the laws
as strictly as it once did. FreeNK Assistant Director Kim
Ki-seong likewise said that government control appears to
have lessened and people are more confident about breaking
the rules. Howard from OpenRadio also said that the
penalties for listening to illegal broadcasts in the DPRK
appear to be less severe than in the past. Whereas in the
past a person caught listening to a prohibited station would
be sent to prison, the police now just confiscate the radio
and sell it in the market.


21. (SBU) Kookmin University Professor Andrei Lankov is a
strong proponent of radio broadcasting. According to Lankov,
the number of listeners is probably small, but broadcasting
could play an important role in regime transformation. When
change comes, the radio listeners -- who are likely to be
relatively well-educated risk takers -- will be either the
catalysts of change or positioned to move into positions of
authority after change occurs.

22. (SBU) He explained that the target audience should be
mid- to high-level functionaries in Pyongyang, and
programming should include entertainment media along with
objective news. "BBC hooked many listeners in the Soviet
Union because of its expert commentary on classical music.
Something similar is needed in North Korea." Lankov
suggested that a diversity of programming, including
religious, education, news, and one or two more "aggressive"
stations, would be an effective approach. Programming that
is too stridently anti-DPRK would likely repulse the majority
of listeners.

23. (SBU) Dongguk University Professor Koh Yu-hwan agreed
that direct criticism of the DPRK regime could undermine the
credibility of such programming. Koh suggested that
programming should have direct relevance to the everyday
lives of North Koreans. "The North Korean population," said
Koh, "is curious about what is happening outside their
country. Accordingly, regional current affairs programming
would be useful as well." Kim Geun-shik from the Institute
for Far Eastern Studies thought that the defector programming
was a useful addition to previous broadcasts. Voice of
America and Radio Free Asia were "too American," he said, and
thus had a limited appeal.

24. (SBU) Inje University Professor Brian Myers said that
"Cold War style" broadcasts are unlikely to be effective.
Myers, who is an expert on DPRK propaganda, explained that
the DPRK's legitimacy is not based on the belief that Kim
Jong-il is giving North Koreans a better standard of living.
It is a nationalist message that Kim Jong-il is protecting
pure Koreans from foreign subjugation and domination. Using
outside propaganda to fight nationalism is very difficult, as
demonstrated by its nearly complete ineffectiveness with
Imperial Japan.

25. (SBU) The messenger would also be important. Myers
pointed out that most defectors are uneducated laborers or
farmers from North Hamkyeong Province, the poorest region of
North Korea. The educated classes in Pyongyang -- the most
valuable target of broadcasting -- would not be persuaded by
the typical defector. "Imagine if the U.S. were under a
totalitarian regime. Would the educated classes in
Washington be convinced by late-night shortwave broadcasts
from West Virginian expats?" There would have to be a great
emphasis on finding well-educated, sophisticated North
Koreans to do the broadcasts.

26. (SBU) Lankov suggested that programming created by
Korean-Americans could be useful. According to standard DPRK
propaganda, overseas Koreans suffer under the yoke of foreign
imperialists and are merely waiting for the opportunity to
return to a unified Korea. Direct radio broadcasts from
content Korean-Americans would help disabuse North Koreans of
that notion. Myers disagreed. "Korean-Americans are
presented as prodigal son figures. They are Koreans who have
betrayed their country. It probably would not be an
advantage in propaganda terms."


27. (SBU) Radio programming could play an important role in
providing North Koreans with an initial exposure to world
events and the diversity of opinions that exist beyond DPRK
borders. As inexpensive electronics filter into the DPRK
through the Chinese border, programs such as those described
above are likely to enjoy a growing audience, especially if
broadcasters continue to use North Korean announcers and
otherwise tailor their programs to their target audience.
28. (SBU) It is also noteworthy that former ROK democracy
activists are spearheading OpenRadio, and probably RFC as
well. Both appear to have close links with each other and
NKNet, an NGO with roots in the democracy movement and a
mandate to pursue North Korean human rights. Their fixation
on secrecy likely reflects not just a concern for the
resettled North Koreans with whom they work, but also the
standard operating procedures that they developed in the
1980s. While most of their colleagues from the democracy
movement have since become advocates of reconciliation and
engagement, these former activists have found the comfort of
moral consistency in activities which more directly promote
human rights and democracy in the DPRK. Their main obstacle
is the expense of overseas transmission, which severely
limits the duration of the broadcasts. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

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