A South Korean television programme loved and trusted by North Koreans

Wednesday 16th October, 2013

Due to the influence of the ‘Korean Wave’, many North Koreans now have access to recorded South Korean television programming. In some regions, North Korean viewers can even watch it live. If the programmes widely watched by North Koreans were ranked in terms of numbers, soap operas and movies would probably be in the lead, according to testimonies in recent years.

But there is a lesser-known South Korean programme that North Koreans have loved and trusted for years. That show is none other than the weather forecast.

The weather forecasts’ popularity is highest among North Koreans living close to the sea, with these regions being particularly sensitive to weather. It is not only through television that these forecasts are accessed, but also through the more available medium of radio broadcasts.

A North Korean refugee from Chongjin tells us, “Fishermen carry small, hidden GPS devices, which they find useful for tracking their location when they go to sea. But a more important reason they carry such devices is to listen to the South Korean weather forecasts. The North Korean forecasts are often wrong, and South Korean weather forecasts have a reputation for being more accurate.”

Refugees testified that the North Korean weather forecasters use old-fashioned wind-vanes, among other traditional instruments, and still depend on out-of-date methodology. Some North Korean refugees even say that it is better to listen to the country lore of an elderly person, than to bother with the official North Korean weather forecasts.

As North Korea has a high proportion of economic activities which necessarily depend on the weather, the people need to be aware of changes in the weather. Yet one of the primary factors for the large damage North Koreans suffer in floods and storms is that they are often hit by bad weather without any notice or time to prepare.

In the past, South Korean weather forecasts only reported the weather for South Korean regions, excluding North Korea. Eventually, summary forecasts for the six main North Korean cities were added.

When inter-Korean exchanges started to increase, the number of weather forecasts covering North Korea also increased. Since 2009, the South Korean observatory has presented weather forecasts for North Korea’s 27 cities at three-hour intervals.

Today, North Koreans use South Korean weather forecasts, considered more reliable than their own, to help prepare for natural disasters and floods. One North Korean exile cautiously suggested, “Since the South Korean weather forecasts do not contain any political messages, even the North Korean navy may be listening, in secret, to South Korean weather forecasts.”

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