For sixty-four years, the Kim dynasty in North Korea has controlled the information seen and heard by the North Korean people. They scrambled radio and television signals from anywhere. They printed the only newspapers available in the country, prevented magazines from being brought in, tightly controlled the news in all media. They adjusted as technology changed, and internet is available only through state-controlled sources.
However, there is something going dangerously wrong with their electronic control. Somehow, DVDs, USB sticks and file sharing are punching holes in North Korea’s careful control of information.
In the failing days of the Soviet Union, in the late 1980s, where Radio Free Europe had failed to make much of a difference in Soviet society, West German television was rocking the state to its foundation. It was showing the Soviet people the world that they never knew existed, a world that included such American shows as Dallas. This is what is happening now in North Korea.
South Korean television shows are being shared and traded, along with “K-Pop,” Korean popular music.
A 31-year-old North Korean defector confirmed the impact, saying “I was told when I was young that South Koreans are very poor, but the South Korean dramas proved that just wasn’t the case. His statement was part of the InterMedia report prepared for the United States State Department, which surveyed hundred of NK defectors who entered South Korea through China. Chinese merchants smuggle the physical media in and some people along the border illegally access foreign TV channels or radio broadcasts and record them.
If the experience in the Soviet Union is any indication, these little breaks in the wall of isolation will do more damage to the Kim regime than any sanctions anyone can impose. Nothing harms an isolationist regime faster than losing the isolation.