Interview: Ha Tae Kyung on potential for government-backed civilian broadcasts to NK

[Broadcast Briefing ]
Lee Kyoung Ju  |  2015-09-30 11:49

Escalated tensions on the Korean Peninsula prompted by an explosion of land mines planted by North Korea were diffused after the two Koreas held high-level talks on the border. The event once again proved how much threat Seouls loudspeaker propaganda operation poses to Pyongyang. The North had first stepped up provocations to halt the broadcasts but then quickly took on a softer approach after being hit by a strong response from Seoul.

Being so focused on pulling the plug on the loudspeakers, the North agreed to a deal with the South after lengthy negotiations, but this whole incident has increased calls on Seoul to amp up broadcasts to the North. In light of this, Daily NK and Unification Media Group will look at the impact of these broadcasts and how it affects the North Korean leadership through a nine-part series.

The following is a transcript of Unification Media Group's recent interview (video available in Korean above) with Saenuri Party lawmaker Ha Tae Kyung.

Unification Media Group [UMG]: The recent high-level inter-Korean talks have highlighted the importance of civilian broadcasts into North Korea. As someone who used to head Open Radio for North Korea, it must carry more meaning for you. What role do you think these broadcasts have? 

Rep. Ha Tae Kyung: Simply put, I think we can call it a bridge for unification. If we want to see reunification, we need these broadcasts, but Ive never seen anyone from the current administration leading unification policies discuss the importance of these broadcasts. To me, it seems like they dont feel desperate enough about unification. 

I think if youre serious about it, you cant leave out these broadcasts. The reason for that is because in order to reunify, you need to know each other well. North Koreans dont know much about us, so we need to tell them more. The most effective method is using radio messages. Despite this, not one person -- not the unification minister, not the presidential office -- has said we need these broadcasts, and they play a very important role. 

-Some have said these broadcasts have given the South an upper hand, and that it should use them as leverage to draw Pyongyang out to the negotiating table. 

Radio broadcasts are essential for reunification. Broadcasts and media are important as part of our policies for North Korea, and we were able to use this as a policy tool during the landmine incident, forcing Pyongyang to take a step back. We need these kinds of policy tools. In the past, we mostly relied on diplomatic and economic sanctions to get Pyongyang to give in, apologize, or make concessions. Diplomatic tools refer to severing ties, and economic sanctions refer to putting restrictions on countries that North Korea conducts trade with. 

One of the prime examples would be the May 24 sanctions. After the Cheonan attack back on March 26th, 2010, Seoul rolled out the May sanctions. The UN issued sanctions on the North after it carried out nuclear tests, and Seoul did the same when it carried out the Cheonan attack. Each time, the North never apologized, nor did it come to the negotiating table. But this time, not a week had passed since Seoul started up its loudspeakers, and Pyongyang made concessions. 

Its pretty obvious what this means. Diplomatic, economic sanctions dont have effects, but broadcasts do, so its time to shift the paradigm toward media campaigns into the North. Thats what Im urging the government to do now: shift the paradigm. I intend to continue urging the government to completely change the direction of its policies from the diplomatic and economic front to the media front. Next month, when parliament holds its interpellation session, I plan on addressing this issue and persuading the unification minister, the prime minister, and defense minister.

-I believe radio broadcasts and other media play a large role in changing the North Korean people and the system. Do you think delivering information to the North can become a cause of change in the country? 

In terms of effects, the easiest comparison would start with the loudspeakers on the border. If the South were to broadcast via loudspeakers all along the border, it would reach roughly 600,000 North Korean troops on the border. But if we were to make that radio broadcasts, I believe roughly 10 percent of the population, so two to three million people, would have access. 

Weve conducted multiple surveys on North Korean defectors, or those residing in China, and results show that 10 percent would be able to tune into radio broadcasts. If we were to go one step further and offer TV services, because 70 to 80 percent of the population has a TV at home, the impact would be even greater.

-So loudspeakers are only effective near the demilitarized zone, whereas, radio broadcasts would be available for North Koreans across the country. This is why people argue that civilian broadcasts are more important tools in changing the North rather than loudspeaker propaganda. 

If youre talking about the impact, radio is better than loudspeakers, and television is better than radio, so these parts need to be well reflected when drawing up policies.

-The sad reality is, there is not enough interest and shared interest in the importance of these radio broadcasts. Theres not enough government support, and the public is not very interested, so what kind of measures do you think we can use to rally up more government support and interest? 

The South Korean government is doing a very bad job when it comes to this field. Other foreign governments are actually more active. In the U.S., the government provides support through the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, and it even uses AM frequency waves from the South. BBC is also planning a daily news program to broadcast into the North, backed by the British government. 

In the South, civilian broadcasters including Unification Media Group, have been going at this for ten years, using foreign-based transmission stations and all without support from the government, which turns a blind eye to this area. From a broadcaster's point of view, the most important thing is to get the right channel, the right frequency that people can easily access. This is something that the government can assist with. Its not too late for the government to now start actively reviewing how it can help these civilian broadcasters. 

-You submitted a revised broadcast bill recently.. Whats the key issue that youre looking to have amended? 

What the National Assembly does is create laws that can be enforced when the government is not doing what it should be doing. Under current laws, the government can, if it wants, provide support with frequencies. But the bill that Ive proposed is a Unification Broadcast Bill that mandates support for radio broadcasts into the North, and it requires that the government select a broadcaster and support it with a frequency wave. There is also another bill submitted by Rep. Kim Eul Dong recently. It proposes to allow financial support to create programs, so the two of these bills were proposed together. 

-So it mainly deals with support for radio broadcasts into the North. What kind of results do you hope to see? 

The main impact would be making the importance of these broadcasts an issue for discussion. Through media, the South Korean public will also think about the importance of these civilian operations, and it especially gives us different opportunities to urge the government to support civilian broadcasters. 

-One of the most important things in proactively using media policies toward the North would be winning over support for medium-wave radio frequencies. If the bills are voted into law, do you think this would be a possibility? 

I imagine a lot of people are probably not so familiar with radio frequencies. There are largely three types: FM, AM, and shortwave. FM is what most people in the South listen to, and its known for not being able to travel long distances. If you listen to an FM frequency in Seoul, by the time you get to Cheonan, the frequency will already have changed. So that means FM will not only fail to reach near the border area, it will not be able to be delivered across the North. 

On the other hand, AM travels far. So if we were to broadcast in AM, North Koreans would be able to listen to it as well. The thing with shortwave is that it can reach the entire area in the North, but the frequency is unstable, and the quality is bad so there will be times when you can hear, and others when you cant. In other words, AM is the best option. If you look at the frequencies in the South, because FM is used the most, theres a lot of free room in AM frequencies. Theres a much higher possibility AM would be used for North Korean broadcasts, and thats why Im also saying we should allocate AM frequencies to civilian broadcasters. If the bill goes through, it of course increases the chances of this happening. 

-Some are worried about offering support for frequencies, saying that it could aggravate the North and worsen inter-Korean relations. How likely is it that the bill will pass? 

Whenever we try to do something, theres always someone who says we shouldnt because it will upset the North Korean leadership. If you approach things that way, you wont be able to get anything done. For example, if we tell the North not to conduct nuclear tests, thats going to provoke the North a lot. But for that reason, are we to tell them to carry out nuclear tests? Its the same when it comes to condemning them for human rights violations.

The important thing is in order for us to reunify, the North needs to not carry out nuclear tests, improve its human rights, and for the two Koreas to know each other better through broadcasts. The North will likely launch complaints against it, but we need to just see things through. 

So far, we havent seen North Korea strongly complain about radio broadcasts. The messages are still being streamed in. Pirate radio operations are much less provocative than loudspeaker operations. So theyre much more effective in conveying information but less provocative. This is why the opposition party also believes there will be relatively less resistance from the North. 

If the government shows some proactive moves, I think theres more than enough chance of it winning approval in parliament. Whats more important is for the North to not see this as something to complain about. They should instead launch their own pirate radio broadcasts into the South and make this a mutual operation. Then it would have nothing to complain about. 

-What kind of efforts do you need to see on the ground to get this bill through? 

What the National Assembly fears the most is public sentiment. If members of the public would come to recognize the importance of these operations and understand that theyre essential, then lawmakers will pass the bill. What the civilian radio broadcasters can do is create more awareness, since a lot of people dont even know that these operations exist. Broadcasters need to visit lawmakers, explain what they do, and carry out a variety of campaigns. 

-Some say strengthening these operations is the same as getting ready for unification. This is because they believe its the way to reduce the differences between South and North Koreans. 

Broadcast is something that brings not only people from the South and North but the entire world together. One simple example would be Psys Gangnam Style. The Korean cultural wave Hallyu is the same. Its broadcast worldwide, and people in Korea, the U.S., and China sing the same song and dance. 

The two Koreas are no different. Songs and dances that those in their teens and 20s like in the South are loved by those in the North as well. The problem is that there are North Koreans who cannot watch and cannot listen to this content. Some may have access, but they have to watch it through CDs or DVDs smuggled through the border. 

What we need to do is make sure that everyone can have access by delivering it through strong radio frequencies. This will help bring the cultures together. By sharing the same culture, we can overcome one of the biggest challenges in unification: cultural discrepancies. What will allow us to get over this is the broadcasts that go into the North. They will play an immensely important role.

*Translated by Jiyeon Lee

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