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North Korea Uses South's TV Clips To Show 'Wretched' Life

North Korea recently took the unusual step of showing South Korean television on its official airwaves. However, Pyongyang selected and edited the footage very carefully to support its propaganda myth that South Korea is a place of misery.North Koreans increasingly have access to unofficial news sources that tell a very different story.

This is South Korea - the way North Korea wants its people to see it.

"We are not moving forward, we are slipping backwards. There is no hope of progress," said the narrator of the North Korean program.

The North's official media recently aired this montage of scenes, hand-picked from South Korean media reports, to paint a picture of widespread impoverishment, unemployment, and discontent.

"The South is collapsing - South Koreans live at the edge of a desperate precipice..... 34 people commit suicide every day," claimed the program. "Still, in the South, it can be better to die than to survive."

Yang Moo-jin is a North Korea specialist at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies:

"It is very rare for North Korea to use South Korean programming like this," said Yang Moo-jin. "They are emphasizing South Korea's political, social, and economic difficulties - in order to teach the North Korean people not to envy the South, and more importantly, not to expect any help from South Korea."

Despite some hardship from the global economic downturn, South Korea's economy hums with energy and abundance. Per capita income here is about 15 times higher than the North's. Starvation, all but nonexistent in South Korea, remains a daily threat for millions over
the border.

More and more North Koreans are coming to understand that economic disparity, because they have increasing access to information that does not come from the state.

Seoul-based Open Radio for North Korea, like the Voice of America, broadcasts news and information via shortwave radio into North Korean territory on a daily basis.

Open Radio President Hah Tae-kyoung, says an increasing number of North Koreans possess Chinese, and even South Korean cell phones illegally.

"South Korean roaming phones is very convenient to exchange SMS messages, so that's why they use it, but South Korean cellphone is the most risky," said Hah Tae-kyoung. "Because they know that it is from South Korea. Chinese cellphones are less risky, because they know that a lot of businessmen in North Korea use those phones for their business."

Hah says business across the Chinese border also creates a robust flow of information, passed by word-of-mouth, especially by North Koreans who make contact with South Koreans in China. South Korean dramas and other programming are smuggled in to the North from China regularly on video tapes and CDs.

Hah says those who live close to the heavily armed border with the South also have access to unofficial information.

"In the Southern part, a lot of people can watch South Korean TV programs," he said. "The South Korean TV signal can reach the southern part of North Korea. So they also have some amount of information about the outside world."

That means North Koreans are getting a view of the South unfiltered by North Korean propaganda - perhaps reducing the effectiveness of videos like this one in the future.