Will the AP’s new Pyongyang bureau be allowed to do real reporting?

The Associated Press announced this week that it had reached an agreement with the Korean Central News Agency to set up a bureau in Pyongyang. This would make it the "first permanent text and photo bureau operated by a Western news organization in the North Korean capital (AP Television News has had a Pyongyang bureau ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
552292_kji_picnik_12.jpg
552292_kji_picnik_12.jpg
This undated photo released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 8, 2011 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il visiting the Pyongyang Textile Mill in Pyongyang. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT " AFP PHOTO / HO / KCNA via KNS " - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE OT CLIENTS (Photo credit should read KCNA/AFP/Getty Images)

The Associated Press announced this week that it had reached an agreement with the Korean Central News Agency to set up a bureau in Pyongyang. This would make it the "first permanent text and photo bureau operated by a Western news organization in the North Korean capital (AP Television News has had a Pyongyang bureau for the last five years):

The contract signed this week designates AP as the exclusive distributor of contemporary and historic video from KCNA’s archive, providing a new source of video content from North Korea to AP’s members and customers around the world.

Lord knows this blog is appreciative of new sources of KCNA propaganda footage, but the partnership certainly raises the question of whether the AP will be allowed to do the same kind of high-quality, independent journalism it does in the rest of the world without jeopardizing its North Korean credentials. 

The Associated Press announced this week that it had reached an agreement with the Korean Central News Agency to set up a bureau in Pyongyang. This would make it the "first permanent text and photo bureau operated by a Western news organization in the North Korean capital (AP Television News has had a Pyongyang bureau for the last five years):

The contract signed this week designates AP as the exclusive distributor of contemporary and historic video from KCNA’s archive, providing a new source of video content from North Korea to AP’s members and customers around the world.

Lord knows this blog is appreciative of new sources of KCNA propaganda footage, but the partnership certainly raises the question of whether the AP will be allowed to do the same kind of high-quality, independent journalism it does in the rest of the world without jeopardizing its North Korean credentials. 

When contacted for comment, the AP’s communications office sent along a statement from Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll:

The AP operates independently, regardless of location. Period. We have been able to work from Pyongyang as we do elsewhere, by asking questions and seeking to learn more about a country and its people and then doing stories. Our coverage of North Korea from inside and outside the country has been straightforward, insightful and fair. None of it has ever been censored.

Some of this coverage has included the public introduction of heir apparent Kimg Jong Un,  which AP reporters were invited, along with a small group of western journalists, to attend, and a dispatch from the celebrations for Kim Il Sung’s birthday. AP photographers have also put together some stunning images from Pyongyang. 

But as AP Soeul bureau chief Jean Lee writes, even when invited into the country, "Foreign reporters are typically kept on a short leash, restricted to the hotel and the major sights and kept away from North Koreans."

It will be interesting to see whether AP reporters are granted access to events other than government-organized rallies and photo-ops. 

On the other hand, as North Korea expert Bradley Martin suggests to the Global Post, the purpose of the bureau may be less about covering day-to-day news than being in position "The big advantage of being there won’t be seen until things fall apart and there’s no one else to swing into action and report to the outside world."

That may be true, but they need something to cover in the meantime other than Kim Jong Il Looking at Things.  

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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