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N. Korea wants S. Korea to drop broadcast
( 2003-08-29 14:35) (Agencies)

Every day, a South Korean public radio program broadcasts news, hit pop songs, talk shows and lectures over its northern border -- material that North Korea says it can't tolerate any longer.

KBS's Radio Liberty program was created in 1948 to provide Koreans living in Russia, China, and North Korea with news of Korea. It used to contain condemnations of North Korea. Now it features interviews with North Korean defectors describing their new lives in South Korea, and provides information such as the number of computers in the two Koreas.

Many South Koreans are unaware of the program. But for decades, North Korea has considered it a propaganda tool aimed at destabilizing its isolated state.

Last month, North Korea halted its own three-decade-old anti-South propaganda radio, the Voice of National Salvation, and demanded that South Korea reciprocate by nixing the KBS program.

KBS said it would not comply.

"Since our program is one of the few means of providing truth to North Koreans, we have no intentions of halting our programs," Yoo Woon-sang, chief producer at KBS's radio overseas service department, said this week.

"North Korea's hidden intentions seem to be to prevent outside information from coming into its country," said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert in Seoul.

The pressure to end the South Korean broadcasts came as North Korea held talks this week with the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan to discuss its nuclear program. A U.S. government official said the North threatened to carry out a nuclear test.

North Korea tolerates no independent news media and no public Internet access. Control of information buttresses Pyongyang's rule over its 22 million people.

In past weeks, North Korea has accused Washington of waging "psychological warfare" by sending transistor radios into its territory and boosting airtime of the Washington-based Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America.

In North Korea, tuning into private radio broadcasts is banned.

North Koreans in possession of private radios must report to authorities, who mechanically alter them to catch only local stations. Those caught listening to outside radio broadcasts can be sent to prison, according to North Korean defectors.

"For many North Koreans, South Korean broadcasts make more sense than the local ones, and by listening to them, they spot inconsistencies in their regime," said Lee Joo-il, a 38-year-old defector who arrived in Seoul in 2000.

For decades, the two Koreas waged fierce propaganda battles. The sides used balloons to scatter leaflets on each other's territories. Loudspeakers traded slander across the 2.5-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries. Radio stations infiltrated each other's populaces with political programs. They featured interviews of defectors, who typically described the countries they left behind as "hell" and how they were enjoying a new life in a "paradise."

In both Koreas, it was illegal to listen to those broadcasts.

Following a historic 2000 inter-Korean summit, such propaganda subsided. In July, the two sides even agreed to consider ending "slanderous broadcasts."

North Korea's state-run media, which can be monitored in South Korea, still issues saber-rattling remarks against the United States and is full of praises of its leader Kim Jong Il, although its anti-South Korean slander has dwindled with progress in reconciliation.

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