South Korea’s loudspeakers are being questioned over their reach into North

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s loudspeakers used to wage psychological war against North Korea have been subjected to audits and legal challenges claiming that they are too quiet. This raises questions about how far their propaganda messages will reach the North.

On June 9, South Korea resumed loudspeaker transmissions directed towards North Korea for the first since an inter-Korean accord that is no longer in effect banned them back in 2018.

The speakers purchased were part of 40 systems bought in 2016, after a dispute in 2015 between the two Koreas over broadcasts led to an exchange of artillery fire.

The military claims that the systems can blast pop music and political messages up to 10 km (6.21 mi), which is enough to reach Kaesong with its almost 200,000 residents.

Reuters reported that audits conducted at the time showed the new speakers were not up to the standards set by the military and did not have the power they required.

Kim Young-su is a former navy officer who claims that although the speakers failed two of three initial tests, they were tested in the morning and at night when sound travels the furthest.

Kim, the investigator who raised the issue with the government corruption watchdogs, and the police, stated that South Korea now rarely uses the speakers at those times, in order to not disturb the nearby South Korean residents.

The Ministry of National Defence sued the manufacturer over the issues, but the court dismissed the case because too many environmental factors could affect the performance.

According to Kim and the audit, tests in 2017 revealed that the messages or songs could not be heard beyond 7 km, and often not even 5 km. This is not enough to reach cities like Kaesong.

In a statement to Reuters, the ministry said that loudspeaker performance can vary based on factors such as humidity, temperature and terrain. However, it didn’t consider that this was a problem.

Kim Sung Min, who defected in 1999 from the North and runs a Seoul-based radio station that broadcasts into North Korea news, said the mountainous terrain along the border and North Korea’s loudspeakers further reduce the impact of South Korea’s psychological warfare.

He said that North Korea’s broadcasts were less about winning the South over and more about “suppressing”, or muddled, the South’s messages.

Kim Sung Min said that North Koreans, who listen to the South Korean messages and K-pop songs, which are not allowed in the North can still have a psychological impact.

He said that “these broadcasts can play a part in creating a desire for the outside world or making people realize the textbooks are wrong.”

Local media, citing South Korean officials, reported that at least two North Korean frontline soldiers defected in 2017 to the South after listening to loudspeaker transmissions.

Steve Tharp is a retired U.S. Army Officer who worked along the border for years.

He said: “We know the North Koreans are partial fans of them because they spent so much time turning them off.”

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