Korea was described as the “hermit kingdom” in the bygone era of the Choson dynasty which ruled from the late 1300s until the early 1900s. At the time, Korea was intentionally isolated by its rulers, with unauthorised interaction between foreigners and Koreans largely banned. Today, North Korea continues this ancient tradition of self-isolation.While all communist regimes have been remarkably unenthusiastic about interactions between their subjects and the outside world, North Korea has been exceptionally zealous in such matters. Indeed, the government in Pyongyang has done everything it can to make sure its people only have one source for information about the outside world: state-controlled media.This policy was first introduced in the late 1950s. Remarkably, in their efforts to keep the country isolated, the North Korean government did not make a major distinction between their supposedly friendly communist allies and the “hostile” capitalist world. In the North Korea of the 1970s and 1980s, all foreigners, even from such “esteemed” allies as the Soviet Union and East Germany, were subject to the same inordinate level of surveillance.How does this system work in practice?Sealing radios and TVsIn the 1960s, North Korea became the only country in the world that criminalised the possession of tunable radio sets. All radio sets sold in North Korean shops had – and still have – fixed tuning, so they can only be used to listen to the small number of official North Korean radio stations.If a North Korean buys a tunable radio in a hard currency shop, or brings one from overseas, he or she is required by law to immediately submit the dangerous machine to the police station – whereupon, police technicians will disable the tuning mechanism and return the radio to the owner interestingly, the owner is charged by the police for this operation. In such a way, the ideological health of the population, regardless of whether they have access to foreign currency and travel or not, is guaranteed.To ensure that the owners of radios do not secretly repair their tuning mechanisms, all radio sets have to be sealed. To ensure that said the seals remain unbroken, local authorities conduct spot checks at random several times a year, usually at midnight. If someone is discovered to either possess an illegal tunable radio or even just to have tampered with the seal of their radio, punishment can be internal exile to remote parts of the country or even a few years’ imprisonment. Though, rampant corruption means that those who have the money can buy their way out of trouble. In areas near the border with China, the authorities also have to fight another threat: The possibility that their people will secretly watch Korean-language Chinese TV broadcasts. Such Chinese broadcasts target the educated and affluent ethnic Korean minority in China, whose members tend to live on the Chinese side of the Sino-North Korean border. Chinese programming is, by North Korean standards, highly frivolous and contains much in the way of dangerous ideas and information. Korean-language Chinese channels also frequently run South Korean movies and serials which are seen by the Pyongyang authorities as especially dangerous. Thus, in the borderland areas, TV receivers have their channel dials, switches and buttons sealed. And until recently, remote controls were also banned.The attitude toward the print media is even stricter. Since the early 1960s, all foreign non-technical publications have been sent to special sections in libraries and only those with the requisite security clearances were allowed to access dangerous uncensored news about the outside world. Tellingly, no exceptions were made even for the publications of supposedly “fraternal” communist countries – Pravda was seen as potentially just as dangerous as The Washington Post.
via N Korea: Tuning into the ‘hermit kingdom’ – Al Jazeera English.