By Nate Thayer
December 24, 2014
According to 14 current and former AP reporters involved in news produced out of the North Korean bureau, as well as the detailed draft agreement signed by AP top management with North Korea, the Pyongyang bureau is the only one in the world where the AP allows:
- A government to decide which reporters the AP employs as the official AP “staff correspondents”;
- A government to directly receive the salaries of “AP staff correspondents” who are handpicked by the regime’s propaganda apparatus;
- That its bureau be located within the headquarters of the government propaganda organs with no independent communication system;
- A government to decide what news stories AP is permitted to report, and;
- A government the right to control the production process, independent of outside AP supervision, of news stories the AP then distributes globally.
Despite trumpeting itself as the “first independent Western news bureau” in North Korea, top executives of the Associated Press (AP) in 2011 agreed to distribute state-produced North Korean propaganda through the AP name, a confidential document and interviews with current and former AP staff reveal.
An internal draft agreement between the AP and North Korea’s state media outlet the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) dated December 2011, obtained by NK News from sources inside the AP, suggests that – far from being a bastion of the free press – AP’s Pyongyang bureau serves primarily to distribute news approved and censored by the North Korean state.
The document says the AP will “serve the purpose of the coverage and worldwide distribution of policies of the Worker’s Party of Korea and the DPRK government”; that changes to state-produced content would have to be made with “full consultation between the two sides”; that the “KCNA shall nominate” the full-time staff the AP would hire for their Pyongyang bureau; and that “the average $12,000 per month” for salaries and office rental fees be paid by a “method requested by (the) KCNA.”
“(The) KCNA shall be responsible for all the procedures inside the DPRK for the opening and operation of Bureau,” the document says, the authenticity of which was confirmed by interviews with 14 current and former AP staff involved in news production from the AP’s Pyongyang bureau.
Despite AP foreign journalists such as Jean Lee, Eric Talmadge, Tim Sullivan and David Guttenfelder giving the bureau a veneer of independence, the agreement does not allow any international AP staff appointed to Pyongyang permanent visas to live and work full-time in the country.
And unpublished interviews between recently released U.S. political prisoners from North Korea and local AP representatives indicate the agency’s cooperation in coached and coerced statements, the ex-prisoners told NK News.
Such government control over AP access to North Korea contextualizes the content produced by the Pyongyang bureau in the nearly three years since its January 2012 opening, raising questions of whether the AP is bringing new information from North Korea to the world or has been effectively absorbed as a willing partner of the North Korean propaganda machine. (for full story, please see the excellent news site NKNews.org