North Korean TV censors British gardening show host’s jeans

North Korea’s state broadcaster, KCTV, has blurred out a pair of jeans worn by veteran British TV host Alan Titchmarsh as part of the country’s censorship of foreign fashion and culture.

KCTV carried an episode of Titchmarsh’s show “Garden Secrets,” originally aired on the BBC in 2010, on Monday.

At one point he can be seen kneeling in a flowerbed, and keen-eyed viewers will notice that the lower half of his body has been blurred to obscure the jeans he is wearing.

Titchmarsh told the BBC that the censorship had given him some “street cred.”

Titchmarsh, pictured during the KCTV broadcast - BBC/KCTV
Titchmarsh, pictured during the KCTV broadcast - BBC/KCTV

“I’ve never seen myself as a dangerous subversive imperialist - I’m generally regarded as rather cosy and pretty harmless, so actually it’s given me a bit of street cred really hasn’t it?” he said.

Nam Sung-wook, a professor of North Korean Studies at Korea University in Seoul, told CNN that the censorship shows North Korea is strictly implementing the newly adopted Reactionary Ideology and Culture Rejection Act.

“The act aims to prohibit North Korean residents from imitating foreign countries in various aspects, including how they’re dressed and speak,” he said.

He added that jeans have been banned for residents as a symbol of American imperialism, but some flexibility has been applied to foreign visitors because they can’t prevent them from wearing jeans.

Peter Ward, a research fellow at the Sejong Institute in South Korea, said the censorship is part of a fight against “anti-socialist culture and ideology.”

“Blue jeans are associated with ‘decadent’ Western culture, as they were in the Soviet Union, and Kim Jong Il ordered officials to rid the country of them back in the 1990s,” he said.

“They have had campaigns against anti-socialist culture since at least the early 1990s,” said Ward. “The intensity of these campaigns has increased, especially since 2020.”

The Reactionary Ideology and Culture Rejection Act was introduced that year, banning the population from distributing, watching or listening to any cultural content deemed to be anti-socialist.

Violations are punishable by years of hard labor for small quantities of banned material and even death for larger amounts.

At that time, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported that the law prevents “the introduction and dissemination of anti-socialist ideology and culture….so that North Koreans can protect their own ideology, spirit, and culture.”

For decades, North Korea has been comparatively closed off from the rest of the world, with tight restrictions on free expression, free movement and access to information.

Its dismal human rights record has been criticized by the United Nations. Internet use is heavily restricted; even the privileged few who are allowed smartphones can only access a government-run, heavily censored intranet.

Foreign materials like books and movies are banned, often with severe punishments for those caught with black market contraband.

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