An Oxford student society this week began a campaign to have the BBC World Service extended into North Korea.
Oxford Students for Liberty (OSFL) have launched a petition addressed to Lord Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University and Chairman of the BBC Trust, stating, “Throughout its long and proud history the BBC World Service has broadcast to the most repressed people all over the world, providing a crucial source of objective news and information, giving hope to people who otherwise may have very little”.
Speaking at OSFL’s launch event this Wednesday, Justin Youngchan Choi, operator of the BBC for North Korea Facebook page, cited the example of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s pro-democracy leader, noting, “She said how helpful the BBC World Service had been, bringing hope and democracy throughout the world”.
Choi explained that the BBC was “quite possibly the most trustworthy news outlet out there. The BBC brand carries much weight. People actually believe the BBC far more than local news”.
OSFL President, Jonathan P. Martindale, told Cherwell, “The BBC World Service is renowned worldwide for its detailed and impartial journalism”.
He added, “We believe this expansion of the World Service would represent not only a possible, but a peaceful way to encourage the flow of information into North Korea and inspire potential grassroots, people-driven change from the inside.”
Choi said that “of course, the obvious criticism is that this puts people in jeopardy. The government will catch them listening, people will die. But the benefit outweighs the negatives.People are dying anyway.”
He added, “We do know that people do have modified radios. If you get found, you go to Yodok [prison camp], you die. But people very often risk their lives to get news from the outside.This was a very consistent pattern in the Cold War”.
North Korea is ranked second-last in the freedom of the press index, published by Reporters Without Borders. Millions are thought to have perished in the famines of the 1990s, while up to 200,000 are today thought to be incarcerated in its concentration camps, which the regime denies exist.
The BBC World Service currently broadcasts in twenty eight languages but not Korean. The service is the world’s most widely distributed international broadcaster, reaching almost 200 million people a week worldwide.
OSFL’s petition expressed deep concern at “the refusal of the BBC to extend its World Service to the Korean Peninsula, and in particular, North Korea”, adding, “We believe that the extension of the service would be a viable and positive move by the BBC”.
One first year geographer told Cherwell, “I will be signing the petition. We should indeed show the world that we care about the situation in North Korea”.
A spokesman for the BBC World Service told Cherwell, “There is a severe lack of media freedom in North Korea and an acute need for more choice and variety of media content. We recently conducted a fact finding mission to South Korea. We found strict controls in the North on what people are allowed to listen to or watch, difficulty in obtaining radios and a complete lack of internet access. Given these significant barriers, we are considering whether it will be cost effective and viable to broadcast existing or new content to North Korea.”