The remit of the BBC Trust impels the BBC World Service to "Enable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues" by reaching out to those untouched by impartial and fact-based reporting. No state deprives their citizens of their right to engage with this ideal quite so completely as North Korea. With Monday's announcement that the BBC is proposing to establish a broadcasting service to North Korea, it is time for the British public, parliamentarians, and civil servants to stand up and support a project that has immense potential to empower the most abused peoples on earth.
The case for a BBC Korean service is strong. A 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry concluded that North Korea's abuse of humanity was unparalleled in the contemporary world and likely amounted to crimes against humanity on a scale not seen in the modern era. With the North Korean state holding a monopoly on media inside the country, the only way that the North Korean people have been able to realise their freedoms of speech and thought has been through the illegal accessing of foreign media.
The North Korean government has, by and large, successfully shielded its citizenry from foreign media by way of intense ideological indoctrination and the threat of physical violence, imprisonment, or execution. But following a devastating famine in the mid-1990s and the gradual erosion of the state's totalitarian control over society, the veil has slipped and many citizens now actively seek unfettered access to a new world.
Central to this has been black market trade. Illegal trade has brought USBs, radios, CDs, DVDs, and other forms of media from China and South Korea into the country, disseminating information and fomenting new hopes and dreams. As demand grows, now is the time for those in the international community with the facilities to build upon these steps to freedom and reach out to a future North Korea.
The BBC World Service is renowned for its pioneering broadcasting, which has long brought free and independent information to millions. The impartiality of the BBC's World Service, coupled with a view of Britain as a neutral state in Korean affairs, makes it an ideal candidate for broadcasting to North Korea.
In 2013, my organisation, the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, launched "An Unmet Need: a proposal for the BBC to broadcast a World Service in the Korean language." Offering an in-depth look at the practicalities of a BBC Korean service, the report remains as relevant today as it was two years ago.
Sources from within the BBC suggest that roughly £1 million per year would be needed to run a Korean-language service. There are a number of different ways this money could be raised, but the BBC have publicly stated that they intend to ask the government to cover the costs, potentially resolving the chief obstacle. There are technical issues that need to be overcome - not least the North Korean government's (intermittent, due to power outages) use of jammers - but nothing on this front is difficult to achieve. A final push will be to generate sufficient political will. The coalition government deferred the decision on establishing a World Service in the Korean language to the BBC. Now that the BBC have offered their support for a BBC service for North Korea, it is hoped that the current government will back this important step.
A failure to reach out to nearly twenty-five million North Koreans at their time of need would be a travesty and a failure in our duties to humanity. In 2010, Al Jazeera reported that a Burmese merchant could not sell a radio set without being able to prove that it could receive the BBC Burmese Service. It is now time for the BBC, the British government, and the British people to bring the same reverence for the World Service to the people of North Korea.