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PREMO Member
Dateline Pyongyang
The AP's problematic North Korea bureau

The news agency has an interesting relationship with North Korea. In January 2012, it opened a bureau in Pyongyang, becoming the first “full-time international news organization with a full-time presence [in North Korea],” as the AP itself reported. The North Korean desk is supervised by Korea bureau chief Jean H. Lee and chief Asia photographer David Guttenfelder.

The AP’s Pyongyang operations are unlike those at any of its other bureaus—unsurprising, given that North Korea ranks 178th out of 179 countries for press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders (Eritrea is 179th, if you were wondering). For one, neither Lee nor Guttenfelder, the titular heads of the office, lives in North Korea. Instead, they only travel there when the regime permits it. What’s more, the bureau’s full-time staff comprises two North Korean “journalists,” one of whom reportedly got his start working at KCNA, the infamous North Korean propaganda service and official voice of the North Korean government and the Korean Workers’ party. (Sample KCNA lede from a story dated March 28, 2013: “Pyongyang, March 28 (KCNA)—The army and people of the DPRK are trembling with towering anger at the U.S. and the south Korean military hooligans who dare insult the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK and go desperate in their moves for confrontation and war.”) Andrei Lankov, a well-known North Korea expert (and author of the forthcoming The Real North Korea), pegs the odds at 99 percent that “they come from the secret police or intelligence services,” according to an article in Foreign Policy.