North Korea's Transnational Media Commodity Network
Kim, Phebe Sunyoung
Cha, Victor D
Why are there are increasing numbers of North Koreans inside the country willing to consume and share illegal foreign media over the last ten years, despite greater risk of capital punishment due to tighter border controls and harsher government policies to punish those who have been exposed to these goods? This analysis claims that a growing transnational media commodity network, due to grassroots market liberalization during the famine years, creates an "amplifier effect" in which North Koreans are increasingly willing to risk greater access to the outside world, despite the political consequences for doing so. The term "transnational media commodity network" is used to describe the expanded trade of media content and advanced technologies, both which are commodity goods, sustained by democratic agents like non-governmental organizations or civil society groups in countries like South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. to increase North Koreans' communication with the outside world and orient individuals away from supporting the regime. As media is introduced into the country by outside groups, North Koreans become more aware of their circumstances and more estranged to the regime's policies, which then encourages out-migration and an important influx of information back into the country as these same individuals communicate with loved ones. This "spiraling out" process of increased political awareness and activism is referred to as the "amplifier effect." For this phenomenon to occur, North Koreans must value foreign media highly, and there must be a growing supply of content and technology. Both have taken place.This study also addresses two challenges. First, the study shows that technology is becoming more available in North Korea's rural areas because of the increasing importance of independent markets, which dispels the concern that wide usage of media in the North is over-exaggerated. Second, it counters the claim that the regime's hard-handed punishments for violators and co-option policies for its elites will effectively reign in the population. Actually, the paper proves that Kim Jong Un's recent May 30th economic reforms are temporary fixes and his attempts to control communicative services and networks are reactionary and unsustainable.
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