Free Flow of Information: A Great Tool Against Totalitarianism

Helle Dale /

Kim Jong-Il

Of all the isolated places on earth, North Korea is a strong candidate for the most dismal. Yet it is the case in the information age that no country can be 100 percent hermetically sealed from the rest of the world. Even in North Korea, cracks are appearing in the government’s information monopoly, which should provide hope that no audience is entirely beyond the reach of U.S. international broadcasting. Societies such as North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, where information is tightly controlled by repressive governments, do present valuable opportunities for U.S. international broadcasting and public diplomacy. In the case of North Korea, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, and four South Korean broadcasters supported by the National Endowment for Democracy have growing audiences in this most totalitarian of societies. Currently Voice of America and Radio Free Asia each broadcast five hours a day into North Korea.

Now, progress may seem improbable in a country where radios and televisions are sold only with dials fixed to official government stations, where every household is hardwired to connect with the local Communist Party, where idolization of Kim Jong-Il is the primary content of every official channel, and where attempts to listen to foreign broadcasts can lead to 10 years of hard labor if discovered. As for the Internet, it exists only as an official tool of a very small number of government users. Yet, according to surveys of defectors coming out of North Korea, the appetite for independent information is growing. From the perspective of the North Korean regime, according to defectors, there is no greater challenge to its power. Particularly in North Korea’s border provinces with South Korea and China, growing audiences are able to receive news of the outside world that does not fit with the regime’s relentless propaganda. This creates the opportunity for independent thought, anathema for totalitarians. (more…)