Breaking the Information Blockade: The Impact of Foreign Media in North Korea

Antony J. Blinken
Deputy Secretary of State
New York City
September 23, 2016

Good morning. Thank you all very, very much, especially not just to my colleague but my very good friend, Tom Malinowski. Thank you for bringing us all together today. Thank you for what you and your team do every single day of the year to keep to us focused on what’s really at the heart of any of the polices we are pursuing, and that’s people. We tend to get in windowless rooms and talk about policy and deliberate, and it sometimes becomes an abstraction. But what it all boils down to, what governments have to all be about, is actually people and their fellow citizens. And the work that Tom and DRL do every single day remind us very powerfully of that, because they’re focused on those among us who, for one reason or another, are suffering injustice of their fellow human beings.

So today is a very powerful reminder of just that. I’m glad that we’re all here. I want to recognize our co-hosts, Ambassador Oh, Ambassador Nishimura, and Ambassador Lynch. Thank you for joining us in this effort. And like Tom, I especially want to thank the extraordinary artists here today not just for their incredible work that you see around you but also the courage they’ve shown in sharing their stories.

Just yesterday, President Obama was back in Washington. Some of you may have noticed he was in New York for a couple of days, probably didn’t have any impact on traffic. He’s back in Washington, and just yesterday he hosted the National Medals of the Arts and Humanities at the White House, and he celebrated the power of storytelling. He said it has the ability to “chart a course for the future while leaving something of ourselves for the next generation to learn from.”

We know that the capacity of art to challenge, to change, to remember, to teach is alive all around us today. This exhibit reminds us that the freedom of cultural and artistic expression cannot, must not be taken for granted—nor can it be held down, because somehow someway somewhere, even in the darkest and more dire circumstances, that powerful, powerful expression will find a way to come to life.

The expansive system of surveillance and censorship that North Korea employs to repress and dehumanize its own people is unprecedented in the modern age. These stories, paintings, webtoons—your stories, paintings, and webtoons—are, in fact, shining a bright light on some of the darkest corners of this planet, right on the regime’s deplorable disregard for its people.

This is the only nation in the world to test a nuclear weapon in the 21st century. A nation that has accelerated both its missile and nuclear testing—posing a serious threat to the security of the United States and our allies in the region. We join the international community in condemning, in the strongest possible terms, North Korea’s September 9 nuclear test. This nuclear explosion—North Korea’s second this year and most powerful ever—coupled with its significant acceleration in missile testing in recent months, demand a commensurate level of action by the international community in response.

As we work to address the DPRK’s nuclear ambitions, which prioritize their nuclear weapons and missiles over the well-being of the people, we also cannot and will not remain silent about the grave human rights violations that take place every minute of every day in North Korea. This is a country that operates a system of enormous prison camps at home, denies its citizens nearly all basic rights, and attempts to impose an information blockade so impenetrable that owning a tunable radio is a crime and even the weather reports are cooked.

But you have seen some evidence that is around you today—very, very, very slowly, cracks in this wall are starting to emerge, thanks to the brave and creative efforts of defectors, NGOs, and others who support them. Unstoppable market forces have brought DVDs, cell phones, thumb drives, and tablets to North Korea—challenging the government’s monopoly on information and building curiosity among North Koreans for independent sources of information. Soap operas, K-Pop, foreign films have opened a window into the wider world—starting to give people a sense that there is another world out there and another Korea out there, exposing the regime’s fabricated realities for the deep deceptions that they are.

It is our hope that the stories shared today serve as a call to action to support those courageous enough to defend human rights in North Korea and call attention to the reality as we truly know it: the DPRK is a rogue state among rogue states, and the people of North Korea deserve so much better.

Thank you very, very much.