Immediately Establish a BBC Korea Service
In North Korea, it is illegal to own foreign media. However, the North Korean people have shown an unending desire for access to foreign movies, TV shows and radio broadcasts. Owing to the restrictions on non-state-sanctioned media and the dire human rights situation in North Korea, all means of supporting the free flow of information into and out of the country should be a priority for the international community.
One critically important way to amp up the flow of information would be for the BBC World Service to establish a Korea service. Known around the world for its non-partisan and impartial reporting, the BBC World Service could be a valuable link between the world and the people of North Korea.
Under the remit of the BBC Trust, one of the explicit purposes of the World Service is to “Enable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”. The World Service also endeavours to serve “information-poor language markets with a clear need for independent information”. As North Korea's press is entirely state-controlled, the value of a Korean-language BBC World Service to the North Korean people is obvious.
In a letter to the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Right Hon William Hague MP summarised the reasons given by the BBC as to why they would not move forward with establishing a Korean language service. They are:
1. a shortwave radio service would reach an insignificant percentage of the population due to a combination of low numbers of SW-capable radios, ignorance of different wavebands and DPRK signal jamming.
2. South Korean regulations currently prevent foreign broadcasters from broadcasting FM or MW radio from South Korea.
3. It would be impossible to offer a TV service that would not be blocked by the government.
4. Mobile or internet services would achieve very low or insignificant impact given access is strictly limited to political elites and both North Korea networsk are effectively cut off from the rest of the world.
The problems with these reasons are obvious. Given the ongoing human rights abuses in North Korea and possible commercial opportunities in South Korea, we urge the BBC and the British government to reconsider their position and establish a Korean-language World Service.
For a better understanding of the case for a BBC World Service in the Korean language, please download our report: www.eahrnk.org/reports
- Peter Horrocks
- Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP
- Diane Coyle
- Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP
- Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP
The British Broadcasting Corporation’s World Service can truly be termed a global institution. Broadcasting since 1932, today the World Service reaches 192 million listeners and crosses over countless borders, cultures and conflicts. A commitment to impartial reporting gives the World Service a reputation for integrity amongst its global audience and continues to set the BBC and its reporters firmly against censorship and political prejudice across the world.
In the face of funding cuts to many BBC services, the importance of the World Service to an audience beyond Britain’s shores should not be overlooked: for countless peoples, the BBC offers the only voice of impartiality and a vital connection to the outside world. The World Service actively stands for humanity, freedom of expression and a global voice in regions rife with repression.
In a stark contrast stands the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Preventing its citizens from accessing any form of foreign or independent media, Reporters Without Borders has continually ranked the DPRK among the world’s most restrictive countries in its Freedom of the Press. While holding a monopoly on all domestic media, those accessing foreign broadcasts risk being interned at one of the state’s many prison camps. Many in the DPRK are increasingly willing to compromise their safety to seek information from the outside world, but the toxic mix of official propaganda, whispered rumours and broken channels of information can only offer mere glimpses beyond the country’s borders.
In recent years, the DPRK government has strengthened its efforts to stem the flow of information into the country, as the emergence of new media technologies have brought illegal mobile phones, USB sticks, televisions and DVDs into the hands of North Korean citizens. The technology most capable of reaching the North Korean people, however, remains one of the oldest: the radio.
Far from a mainstream issue in British politics, it is significant that two motions offering support for a proposed Korean-language World Service have been tabled in the House of Commons, in February and June respectively. Historically, the lives of ordinary North Koreans have failed to galvanise politicians, but the support for the establishment of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry on North Korea in 2013 was an important step. Whereas the DPRK’s nuclear programme has long occupied strategic and political concerns for East Asia, such concerted focus on the plight of North Koreans was exceptional.
Although political momentum has not been transferred into widespread political support for a Korean-language World Service, the ongoing activities of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea have kept the issue within Britain’s political consciousness. The UK’s successful bid for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council from 2014 to 2016 could aid APPGNK’s cause. In December 2013, William Hague, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, commented, “We will use our voice to...call to account nations that commit serious and systematic violations against their citizens...[and] will work tirelessly to protect the most vulnerable people from discrimination and to champion global causes — including...the universal right to freedom of expression”.
As the World Service begins to write a new chapter in its distinguished history, changes to the broadcaster’s funding structures in 2014 need not alter its commitment to connect with “information-poor language markets with a clear need for independent information”, as laid out in its Operating Agreement. As citizens of the DPRK continue to demonstrate, a willingness to seek information is inherent to all peoples. It is imperative that as the BBC meet its objectives, it considers establishing a Korean-language World Service.
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