“My perception completely changed in 1997 after meeting Korean people in China and watching Korean TV. While I cannot entirely deny the influence of listening to the radio, the decisive experience was when I met Korean people,” said a North Korean escapee who left in 2013.

Foreign radio broadcasts remain important features of the North Korean information environment, especially when viewed from an ecosystem perspective, where radio functions as a directly accessible source of otherwise unavailable content. For all the ways in which North Koreans can now acquire, share and consume outside media content, foreign radio broadcasts remain the only source of nationally available, real-time, targeted news content available inside North Korea.

For several decades the North Korean regime employed a simple tactic to prevent citizens from accessing uncensored foreign radio and television stations: it fixed receivers so they cannot be tuned away from North Korean stations. With analog sets, this was easy because the tuning mechanism would either be physically disabled or have a sticker put over the dial to prevent it from being moved. Officials would check that the sticker was still in place during random checks on homes.

To circumvent these checks, which are still in place, many North Koreans have a second radio or television that has not been declared to authorities and retains its ability to receive foreign broadcasts, such as the Korean-language broadcasts by Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, the BBC, and KBS.

As a second line of defense against foreign radio, the North Korean regime maintains a network of jamming transmitters that are on the air around the clock to block reception of a handful of foreign shortwave broadcasters. This brute-force approach involves transmitting loud noise on the same frequency as a foreign radio or television signal to overpower it so citizens cannot hear or watch it.

Photos by Stephen Gladieu
Owner of SCHOOL GALLERY, Paris: ARTCO GALLERY, Germany, Cape Town, Joshua Tree