$50 Portable Media Player Helps North Koreans Bypass Censorship

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A $50 Chinese-made portable media player is allowing many North Koreans to access and view foreign media despite the government’s tight censorship, signaling a shift in one of the world’s most isolated countries, reports Reuters.

A notel, the North Korean mashup of “notebook” and “television,” can fetch for about 300 Chinese yuan ($48) on the black market. The device has built-in USB and SD card ports, a TV and a radio tuner and can also be charged with a car battery, which is an essential power source in an electricity-scarce North Korea. According to correspondents, up to half of all urban North Korean households possess a notel and use it to consume banned media—South Korean dramas, pop music, Hollywood films and news programs—that has been distributed through smuggled DVDs and USB memory sticks.

“The North Korean government takes their national ideology extremely seriously, so the spread of all this media that competes with their propaganda is a big and growing problem for them,” Sokeel Park of nonprofit Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) told Reuters. “If Pyongyang fails to successfully adapt to these trends, they could threaten the long-term survival of the regime itself.

North Korea legalized the notel last year, but its government still required customers to register their devices in order to keep tabs on those most likely to watch banned media. Despite this, it’s relatively easy for North Koreans to skirt censorship with the notel’s multi-function nature. 

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