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Activists in South Korea Hope Airborne DVDs Will Change North


Balloon-launched DVDs and leaflets are designed to bring government criticism and outside news reports to North Korean living rooms

Balloon-launched DVDs and leaflets are designed to bring government criticism and outside news reports to North Korean living rooms

Human rights activists are eager to use whatever tools they can to chip away at the information blockade the North Korean government imposes on its people. In the past, activists have launched leaflets by helium balloon into the North. These days, the messages flying through the air arrive with full color, sound, and motion as part of a new digital strategy.

For almost two years now, activist groups in South Korea have been using balloons to send leaflets into North Korean territory, from sea and from land.

The leaflets criticize the North's leader, Kim Jong Il. But now, there is more than just reading material to be found when the balloons land.

DVDs have been part of the payload of several recent launches. Most of the content comes from news broadcasts.

Kim Seung-chul, the DVD producer, also serves as an anchor, offering North Korean viewers a narrative they will never hear from their own broadcasters.

"I want to help people get back their freedom, and their rights, and to move forward to unification," he said.

A recent DVD production focuses on North-South naval clashes, including one last November that reportedly left a North Korean vessel badly damaged.

Kim says he drew on his engineering training to design the DVD packaging. The packaging is designed to act as paper wings to help discs float back to earth. He says North Korean defectors have told him it is much easier to see DVDs there than much of the world believes.

"DVD players are in 70 to 80 percent of North Korean households in some areas," explained Kim. "Also, more and more houses are getting their own computers."

Kim says the same people trying to stop the spread of the DVDs are part of his target audience.

"Actually it is North Korean government officials who watch these more than anybody, especially the ones in the Defense Ministry," Kim noted. "After they confiscate it, they watch it, and even pass it on to friends. Then they report it to their bosses, generating interest higher and higher in the power structure."

Kim plans more DVDs, including one that illustrates how different Kim Jong Il's lifestyle is from that of the average impoverished North Korean.

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