BBC says no to North Korea targeted service

Broadcaster believes new service would reach "insignificant percentage of the population"
January 14th, 2014

The BBC World Service has decided against a proposal to establish a Korean language service, a judgement relayed to British MPs by William Hague last week has shown.

In a letter addressed to the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the World Service had examined the arguments for a Korean BBC service and concluded that it would not be cost-effective or have the desired impact.

“The World Service has re-examined the case for broadcasts into North Korea, considering both the feasibility of such broadcasts and how effective they would be in reaching North Korean audiences,” the letter said.

“On the basis of this work the World Service board recently reached the conclusion that it is not currently possible for the World Service to offer a meaningful, effective, and cost-effective service [there],” it continued.

The letter cited numerous concerns about the feasibility of the proposed scheme, arguing that it would reach an “insignificant percentage of the population due to a combination of low numbers of SW-capable radios, ignorance of different wavebands and DPRK signal jamming”.

A petition to launch a BBC World service for Korea addressed to Peter Horrocks, director of the BBC World Service, was launched by the London-based European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea NGO in December, and was backed by members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea.

Chair of the Committee Lord Alton expressed his support for a service in October and said he was pushing the BBC on the issue, but said that South Korean laws prohibiting foreign media organizations broadcasting from the ROK would make it difficult, concerns also cited by the BBC in the Foreign Secretary’s letter.

Co-Director of the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea Michael Glendinning told NK News that “Although the decision was expected, the reasons given are dubious”.

“The FCO does not want to support a Korean-language World Service as it believes that it would negatively impact upon current and future ‘critical engagement’ initiatives, such as cultural and educational programmes,” he argued.

“Whilst the arguments put forward in our report ticks virtually every box it should, the BBC and the FCO are pursuing self-interested goals regardless of the facts and their own guidelines and policies”.

EAHRNK will continue to petition for the service, with the organisation’s Media Policy Officer James Burt testifying on the case on Wednesday in front of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.

“We will be shining a greater light on this case, and with more support, both the BBC and the FCO will struggle to justify their positions more publicly,” Glendinning explained.

The news comes after the Sunday Times reported that the BBC World Service is in talks with North Korea’s state-run television channels to screen selected British programmes on North Korean television.

“I have always believed what brought down the Berlin Wall was not highbrow diplomacy but Dallas and Dynasty,” an unnamed source at the Foreign Office told the Sunday Times. 

Shows under considered include soap opera “Eastenders” and the children’s programme “Teletubbies”.

Picture: Eric Lafforgue

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About the Author

Oliver Hotham

Oliver Hotham is an NK News contributor based in London. He has previously worked at the Sunday Times and