Cracking the Information Blockade: Advancing Freedom of Information in North Korea

September 19, 2023
09:00 am - 01:30 pm

About the Event




This event will be held in-person only. Please RSVP by September 13, 2023.  

North Korea’s informational blockade is unparalleled in the modern world. Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, the regime shut down its borders and used pandemic prevention measures to justify severe crackdowns against outside information. The regime introduced draconian new laws that imposed penalties, up to and including execution, for those found viewing or distributing “reactionary ideology and culture,” including South Korean dramas and foreign news. Despite such steep penalties, demand for objective outside information has never been higher in North Korea. Technological strides and marketization have allowed residents to evade government controls and continue to seek out and consume foreign content, ranging from K-pop to civic education.

The tension between the regime’s isolationist policies and residents’ curiosity about the outside world lies at the heart of determining North Korea’s future. Thoughtfully formulated outside content can empower North Koreans to aspire for rights and freedoms and conceive of a democratic future. Unification Media Group (UMG), a Seoul-based media nonprofit, stands at the frontlines of this information battle. With over 15 years of experience working to provide North Koreans with the information they need, UMG prides itself on its one-of-a-kind feedback mechanisms to gather responses from residents in-country and ensure that they receive the objective information they seek.

On September 19, UMG will launch an international conference for freedom of information in North Korea in partnership with NED. UMG will shed light on the black box of North Korea’s media environment and explore emerging opportunities for access, while defectors share their firsthand experience of life in North Korea and the transformative impact foreign content had on their lives.

Simultaneous interpretation (Korean, English) will be available for all guests. 


Event Agenda

8:45am | Registration

9:00am | Welcoming Remarks
Damon Wilson
President and CEO, National Endowment for Democracy

Dr. Jung H. Pak
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affair

9:30-10:30am | Panel 1: North Korea’s Post-Covid Media Landscape
Kwangbaek Lee 
President, Unification Media Group

Unification Media Group Content Distributed in North Korea Over the Last Three Years
Jeong-Ah Yang 
Chief Producer, Unification Media Group

10:45-11:45am | Panel 2: Marketization and Freedom of Information as Key Contributors to Forming a Civil Society in North Korea
Andrew Yeo 
Senior Fellow –Foreign Policy, Center for East Asia Policy Studies, SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies, Brookings

North Korean Perspectives on the Influence of Outside Information
Seong Guk Choi
Webtoon author, defector

Ji Hyeon Kang
CEO of ISTORY, defector

11:45am-12:30pm | Panel 3: The Intersection of Policy and Technology in Advocating Freedom of Information in Hostile Media Environments

Lynn Lee
Deputy Director, Asia Program, National Endowment for Democracy

Martyn Williams
Senior Fellow, Stimson Center

12:30–1:30pm | Lunch with Exhibition Featuring North Korean Media Devices

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