South Korea plans to lift its decades-long ban on public access to North Korean television, newspapers and other publications as part of its efforts to promote mutual understanding between the rivals, officials say.
- South Korea hopes the move will boost mutual understanding and encourage the North to take similar steps
- Experts say the ban has led to dependence on foreigners and other governments to gather North Korea-related information
- North Korea restricts citizens’ access to outside information, though many defectors say they watched smuggled South Korean TV shows
Divided along the world’s most heavily fortified border since 1948, the two Koreas prohibit their citizens from visiting each other’s territory and exchanging phone calls, emails and letters, and block access to each other’s websites and TV stations.
In a policy report to new President Yoon Suk Yeol, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it would gradually open the door for North Korean broadcasts, media and publications to try to boost mutual understanding, restore the Korean national identity and prepare for future unification.
Ministry officials said South Korea would start by allowing access to North Korean broadcasts to try to encourage North Korea to take similar steps.
The ministry refused to provide further details, saying plans were still being discussed with relevant authorities in South Korea.
Jeon Young-sun, a research professor at Seoul’s Konkuk University, said North Korea was unlikely to reciprocate because the flow of South Korean cultural and media content would pose “a really huge threat” to its authoritarian leadership.
Ruled by three generations of the Kim family since its 1948 foundation, North Korea restricts its citizens’ access to outside information, though many defectors have said they watched smuggled South Korean TV programs while living in the North.
In 2014, North Korean troops opened fire when South Korean activists launched balloons toward North Korean territory. They carried USB sticks containing information about the outside world and leaflets critical of the Kim family.
Missile tests strain relations
Relations between the two Koreas remain strained over North Korea’s torrid run of missile tests this year.
Mr Yoon, a conservative, has promised a tougher stance on North Korean provocations, though he also said he had “an audacious plan” to improve the North’s economy if it abandoned its nuclear weapons.
Despite the North’s likely reluctance to reciprocate, Mr Jeon said South Korea needed to ease its ban on North Korean media because the restrictions had led to dependence on foreigners and other governments to gather North Korea-related information.
Mr Jeon said that it had increased the danger of acquiring distorted information on North Korea.
It was not clear how anti-North Korea activists in the South would react to the government’s move.
Mr Jeon said there was little chance the move would promote pro-North Korean sentiments.
South Korea, the world’s 10th-largest economy, is a global cultural powerhouse. Its nominal gross domestic product in 2019 was 54 times bigger than that of North Korea, according to South Korean estimates.
Some observers say the ban must be lifted in a step-by-step process with discussions on what North Korean contents would be allowed first and how access should be given to the South Korean public.
While South Korean authorities block access to North Korean government websites and other media, they rarely crack down on experts, journalists and others using virtual private networks or proxy servers to access them.
A large number of North Korean movies, songs and other content are also available on YouTube, which is accessible in South Korea.