‘Outside media changing N Korean worldview’

North Korea is separated from the more prosperous South Korea by a heavily militarised frontier, and access to the country remains strictly controlled.

Washington: The growing availability of news media and cell phones in reclusive North Korea likely forced it to admit within hours that its long-range rocket launch last month was a failure, the US human rights envoy to the country said on Thursday.

The envoy, Robert King, was speaking at the launch of a US government-funded study that says North Koreans now have unprecedented access to foreign media, giving them a more positive impression of the outside world.

North Korea allowed foreign journalists unprecedented access to the country to report on centennial of the nation`s founder in mid-April, which included the launch of a satellite into space that violated UN sanctions.

The rocket, which uses the same technology to ballistic missiles, disintegrated within a minute or two of take-off.

"The media environment in North Korea has changed and is changing, and with the availability of cell phones for internal communication, and greater availability of information internally, you can`t just say, `Let`s play patriotic songs` so all can tune in," King said.

The study, commissioned by the State Department and conducted by a consulting group, InterMedia, says North Korea still has the world`s most closed media environment, there`s still no public access to the Internet, but the government`s ability to control the flow information is receding.

Restrictions that threaten years in prison and hard labor for activities like watching a South Korean soap opera or listening to foreign news broadcasts have been tightened since the mid-2000s, but are enforced less than in the past, the study says. People remain wary of government inspection teams, but fewer citizens appear to be reporting on each other.

"The state can`t count on their citizenry to turn each other in," the main author, Nathaniel Kretchun, said. The study, titled "A Quiet Opening: North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment," is based on research involving several hundred North Korean defectors and refugees during 2010-11.

It found that nearly half had watched a foreign DVD, the most commonly used type of outside media. About a quarter of people had listened to a foreign radio news broadcast while in North Korea or watched a foreign news station.

Nearly one-third of television watchers whose sets were fixed to state-run programming had modified them in order to capture a signal from outside stations detectable along the Chinese and South Korean borders.

North Korea is separated from the more prosperous South Korea by a heavily militariszed frontier, and access to the country remains strictly controlled.