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South Korea to lift ban on North Korean TV, newspapers despite tensions

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.

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.

Experts doubt the lifting of the media ban would promote pro-North Korean sentiments.(Reuters: KRT)

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.

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