It is not normal that I write a review recommending that readers watch TV when they visit a location, but North Korea is not your everyday normal location.
I am not suggesting that you spend a lot of time on this activity as half an hour will suffice for all but the most ardent and loyal party member, unless you have access to the BBC service (which I will come back to later – suffice to say here that ordinary North Koreans do not have this access). Of course, all (non BBC) programming is in Korean but don’t let that deter you.
Television (and indeed radio and all segments of the press) is under the most strict control of the State. The few that can afford to buy a television will find that it comes pre-tuned to North Korean stations and any attempt to adapt it to receive foreign stations is a most serious criminal offence. Large amounts of money are dedicated to blocking foreign radio and television signals with blocking devices having priority when it comes to allocating scare supplies of electricity.
There are four major television stations in North Korea. During the week broadcasting starts at 5pm and finishes around midnight. At the weekends and on national holidays broadcasting starts at 9am and concludes around midnight.
All North Korean stations, in one way or another, promote the Worker’s Party position and demonize all things Western. The typical line-up includes news, revolutionary operas, patriotic music, army choirs, and documentaries on the Worker’s Party, Kim Il-sung and his successors, military parades and locally produced movies. There are also patriotic and revolutionary soapies, lest you be missing Coronation Street or Neighbours during you visit to North Korea! There are no commercials.
If you get a chance, you really should watch the evening news. While in Korean, you will get a jist of what is going on from the tone of the newsreaders. Wikipedia nicely sums this up:
“Newsreaders use one of four tones—a lofty, wavering one for praising the nation’s leaders, an explanatory one for weather forecasts, a conversational one for uncontroversial stories, and a hateful one for denouncing the West”.
North Korea’s most famous newsreader, until her retirement in January 2012, was Ri Chu–hee who was the anchor newsreader with Korean Central Television from 1974 to 2012. More an actor than a newsreader, peasant born, Ri could turn on joyous emotions when praising the leaders, tears on their deaths and the most vitriolic diatribes and visible anger when denouncing the West. Perhaps her most famous rendition is her announcement of the death of Kim Jong-il in 2011. This is available on the internet and I encourage you to have a look – for instance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9M7egqcX90I. If you find this a little depressing you may enjoy the enthusiasm of another newsreader as she announces the launch of a rocket – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7J2Nnl7Ano.
Outside our Pyongyang hotel room our access to TV was limited to North Korean stations when we had a TV, reception and electricity at the same time, which wasn’t often.
I referred earlier to the BBC. As a foreign visitor and resident of the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang we also had access to the BBC news channel. In the little free time I had I preferred to watch Korean TV – not even the BBC can match a North Korean army choir singing revolutionary songs!
My pictures accompanying this review are of the Pyongyang Television Tower. I have included a short review on it among my Pyongyang entries.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries providing general and background information on The Rambling Wombat’s trip to, and travelling in, North Korea which I recommend you read in a particular order. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Admire the Flowers of the Leaders. If necessary, go to my North Korea introduction entry – And now for something completely different – to start this loop at the beginning.