UPDATED: North Korea regime ‘displeased’ by new BBC service

By Rosie Hughes

North Koreans are running the risk of being sent to hard-labour camps by listening to downloads of BBC programmes which have been smuggled across the border.

Footage provided by the new BBC Korean Service is being picked up by smugglers who then sell it at their local markets, according to the service editor Declan Wilson.

Declan told students at Leeds Trinity Journalism Week that despite serious penalties for watching such footage, young North Koreans want to find out what’s happening outside their country.

He said: “They’re feeling bolder and braver to shut the curtains and watch it.”

The BBC Korean Service was launched in February and has journalists based in Seoul in South Korea, Washington and London.

North Koreans have a range of ways to access the programmes produced by the service, including listening on illegal short wave radios and mobile phones.

He said: “It gets into China on a USB stick, they’re taken across the river in a bucket, someone will wade into the river to collect the bucket, change their clothes and flog it on the market.”

He said the content of the programmes assessed news in South Korea and offered coverage of subjects that weren’t being covered.

He said: “The North Korean regime aren’t very happy with what we’re doing, but the BBC has a history of that.”

At the end of each programme, there’s a short session of basic phrases in English, to satisfy a growing North Korean appetite to learn English.

Declan said the service was launched in February and gained 777,000 likes without any marketing, he said the audience was continuing to build.

Declan was speaking to students about his career which has included working at the BBC for almost 20 years as a producer and for the corporation’s Northern Bureau.

He told us about his experience of flying into Afghanistan during the American invasion in 2001.

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