North Koreans have more access than ever before to media from other countries, US researchers have found.
Thanks to new technologies, Pyongyang is no longer able to control how its people see the outside world, according to a study commissioned by the US State Department and carried out by consulting group InterMedia.
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Radio Free Asia, a US-funded station that is blocked by North Korean authorities, said the government tries to maintain an "iron grip" on information by jamming radio signals, maintaining its own cell phone network, banning public access to the internet, and punishing those caught accessing foreign media.
Yet InterMedia's report, which is based on surveys of North Korean defectors, refugees and travelers as well as input from international experts, found that foreign DVDs are commonly viewed in North Korea. Nearly half of 250 people asked said they had watched one, with South Korean movies and soap operas the most popular.
About a quarter of respondents had listened to foreign news reports in secret via radio or TV, indicating that people are finding ways to tune their sets to stations other than the official state channels.
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Meanwhile new technology like mobile phones, computers, MP3 players and USB drives smuggled in from China is allowing those who can afford it direct contact with the outside world, the report said.
The result is that "North Koreans today are learning more about the outside world than at any time since the founding of the country," the study said.
Ultimately, its authors suggested, exposure to alternative world views could push North Koreans to question their leaders' authority.
"While significant bottom-up pressure on the regime is unlikely in the short term, many people in North Korea are beginning to look more critically at the basic premises of their country's power structure and policies," the report concluded.
Reporters Without Borders currently ranks North Korea the second-worst country in the world for press freedom.
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