AP to open bureau in North Korea

The Associated Press will open a news bureau in Pyongyang, North Korea.

The bureau will be the “first permanent text and photo bureau operated by a Western news organization in the North Korean capital,” and follows AP’s Television News office in the country that creates video news, NPR reported.

The AP signed a series of agreements with the North Korean state news agency in order to open the bureau:

“A memorandum of understanding agreed by the AP and the Korean Central News Agency would expand the AP’s presence in North Korea to a level unmatched by any other Western news organization. It would build upon the AP’s existing video news bureau in Pyongyang by allowing AP text and photo journalists to work in North Korea as well,” the AP reported.

AP Chief Executive Tom Curley and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll traveled to Pyongyang in March.

“The AP operates independently, regardless of location. Period,” Caroll told the Huffington Post, according to Journalism.co.uk.

However, how much freedom the AP will have is questionable.

North Korea expert Bradley Martin told the Global Post that the AP likely won’t have much leeway.

“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,” he told GP in an e-mail.

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, has long been named a tyrant and top predator of media freedom. He has been grooming his son, Kim Jong-un, to succeed him. Reporters Without Borders listed North Korea second to last, at 177 out of 178 countries, on its Press Freedom Index 2010. The press freedom watchdog explains the situation:

“In 2008, Kim Jong-il ordered the security forces to prevent foreign videos, magazines, telephones, computers and CDs from entering the country from China. Several people have been executed for using mobile phones without permission. Others have been sent to the concentration camps where at least 150,000 people are held in terrible conditions, in some cases just for listening to a radio station based abroad. One of these camps is thought to hold the military officer who managed to send a video of a public execution to Japan in 2006.

“Kim Jong-il has another obsession: the international and exile radio stations that broadcast programmes targeted at the North Korean population. The Pyongyang media are told to keep threatening these stations while the police try to track down those who surreptitiously listen to them. Radio sets are very closely regulated. North Koreans must have a special permit to own radio sets, which can only be tuned to the official stations. Independent exile radio stations based in South Korea, such as Radio Free Chosun, Open Radio North Korea and Radio Free North Korea, nonetheless manage to break through the barrier of censorship.”

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