SEOUL — YouTube has blocked North Korea’s state television channel, which broadcasts news on everything from nuclear tests to Kim Jong Un’s outings, to avoid breaching U.S. sanctions against the regime.
The action was apparently taken not because of the content in the channel but because the North Korean government could earn money from YouTube through advertising.
“This account has been terminated for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines,” a message on the Korean Central Television channel’s page reads.
YouTube’s community guidelines ban videos that include violent, sexual or harmful content, or breach copyright. Google, YouTube’s parent company, also asks users to flag content that may violate the law.
Google apparently blocked the channel last month to avoid violating sanctions, but the company has declined to comment.
“We don’t comment on individual videos or channels,” said Taj Meadows, head of communications in Asia for Google, “but we do disable accounts that violate our terms of service or community guidelines, and when we are required by law to do so.”
Under sanctions imposed in March, the Treasury Department designated North Korea’s Propaganda and Agitation Department as engaging in censorship on behalf of authorities. The measures ban any U.S. company or person from doing business with the department.
Joshua Stanton, a lawyer and proponent of sanctions who founded the One Free Korea blog, said YouTube and Google probably realized there was a problem with money changing hands.
“Having reviewed the sanctions in March, they would have said that this is risky, we are potentially in violation,” he said. “It’s good that they have done this, although it’s a fairly small piece of the picture.”
Bruce Klingner, an Asia specialist at the Heritage Foundation, said North Korea had other options. “The Propaganda and Agitation Department is perfectly free to post the videos without making money on them or have one of their many supporters do it,” he said. “Or they could stop censoring free expression inside North Korea.”
The channel showed North Korea’s evening news broadcasts and other propaganda programs, and it featured breaking news at times. After a January nuclear test, Korean Central Television went live on YouTube, with an announcer declaring that the state had tested a hydrogen bomb, although this was disputed by scientists.
The YouTube decision has disappointed analysts, who used the channel for insights into this most impenetrable of states.
“While it provided daily news shows on events the regime wanted shown countrywide, it also helped give context to structures I would normally only see via satellite image,” said David Schmerler, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif.
Using the YouTube account for image collection, along with other sources, allowed North Korea watchers to have a much fuller sense of how something unfolded, Schmerler said.
“This led to a better understanding of an event, even if the North Koreans tried to hide or spin a particular event as being a success when it may not have been,” he said.
Although other YouTube channels also broadcast North Korea’s news bulletins, this one was the fastest and one of the most reliable sources of images. The channel’s termination also means that the archive of videos that analysts pored over also has disappeared.
Analysts estimated that the amount of money the channel was making was probably minimal.