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Seoul Broadcaster Smuggles Uncensored Voices Out Of North Korea

Scene inside Free North Korea Radio

Shortwave radio broadcasting to North Korea is nothing new. The Voice of America has done it for decades, and many other organizations have sprouted up in recent years. The content is often a collaborative effort between South Koreans and North Korean escapees who have taken up residence in the South. But one broadcaster is giving North Korea residents an opportunity to hear from each other.

The broadcaster in Seoul, called Free North Korea Radio, is taking an innovative and risky step: it records the voices of people living in North Korea, then broadcasts those voices back into the North.

"We have at least one stringer, or reporter, in every North Korean province. We throw them issues to talk about, like 'currency reform', or 'market conditions.' They go out and do interviews, and put together a sort of news report," said Kim Seong Min, the broadcaster's director, who is himself a defector from North Korea.

The result is a program called Voices of the People, an unfiltered sample of what some North Korean citizens have to say about their leadership.

"Kim Jong il is such a hypocrite. He only cares about himself. He makes everyone obey him and praise him, as if that is such a good thing to do. Sometimes he hands out presents. But those presents all came from the sweat and blood of the people," said one person heard ono the broadcast.

Such criticism of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is a potentially capital offense.

Free North Korea Radio connects with North Korean citizens via mobile phones. But conversations have to be brief to avoid tracing.

Longer reports are recorded onto tiny digital devices similar to these. The devices are passed hand-to-hand in a chain that smuggles them across North Korea's border with China.

Director Kim says getting the sound to Seoul is accomplished in less than a month. There is risk, and stress, for everyone involved.

Voices are electronically distorted to protect identities. However, not all reporters are told their recordings will be broadcast back into North Korea. Kim downplays concerns about journalistic ethics. "We are doing this for the democratization of North Korea. Since what we are dealing with here is unlike any other ordinary state, and considering how much oppression the North Korean people are suffering from, we cannot condemn this as a violation of media ethics," he said.

Kim says all of the contributors to Voices of the People are individuals he and his team have known for at least five years. The recording devices, he says, are supplied by American and Japanese activists.