A U.S. government-funded study says North Koreans have unprecedented access to foreign media, giving them a more positive impression of the outside world.
But it says North Korea still has the world's most closed media environment, and those changing perceptions are unlikely to translate into significant pressure on their repressive government in the short term.
The study was commissioned by the State Department and conducted by a consulting group, InterMedia. It is based on research involving several hundred North Korean defectors and refugees during 2010-2011. The Associated Press obtained the study ahead of its formal release Thursday.
The study, titled "A Quiet Opening: North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment," says restrictions that threaten years in prison and hard labor for activities like watching a South Korean soap opera or listening to foreign news broadcasts have been tightened since the mid-2000s, but are enforced less than in the past. People remain wary of government inspection teams, but fewer citizens appear to be reporting on each other.
Nearly half of those interviewed said that while in North Korea they had watched a foreign DVD, the most commonly used type of outside media. About a quarter of people had listened to a foreign radio news broadcast or watched a foreign news station.
Nearly one-third of television watchers whose sets were fixed to state-run programing had modified them in order to capture a signal from outside stations detectable along the Chinese and South Korean borders.
The authors caution that the interviews and surveys on which their research is based are not statistically representative of North Korea's population. A disproportionate number lived in proximity to the Chinese border before they fled.
North Korea is separated from the more prosperous South Korea by a heavily militarized frontier, and access to the country is strictly controlled. But the communist government's monopoly on information began to erode in the late 1990s when famine impaired the authorities' ability to enforce the blockade, the study says. At that time, people's hunger drove them to seek food from sources outside the state distribution system. Continued...