Yonhap is reporting that the Kim Il Sung commemorative photo exhibit to be co-sponsored by the Associated Press and the official North Korean “news” service, will open next Thursday:
A group of North Korean journalists left for the United States Saturday to attend a photo exhibition set to open next week, marking the centenary of the birth of the North’s late founding leader, Kim Il-sung, the country’s media said. The North’s delegation, led by Kim Chang-gwang, vice director of the Korean Central News Agency, will attend the opening ceremony of the photo exhibition scheduled for March 15, the news agency said in a report.
The photo exhibition, to be jointly organized with The Associated Press, is scheduled to run until April 13, two days before the late leader’s 100th birthday, the American news agency said in its Web site. [Yonhap]
What’s odd about this is the AP’s extraordinary secrecy about this whole thing. I’ve scoured the internet for a time and place of the exhibit and found nothing. I’ve also sent the AP’s press contacts repeated e-mails asking for confirmation or denial of the story, and copies of their agreements with the North Korean government. The AP has ignored my messages, so I’ll print them here for you to read.
; “pcolford@AP.org” Sent: Sunday, February 26, 2012 12:49 PM
Subject: Memos & agreements with N. Korea, establishing P’yang bureau
Gentlemen, I operate a weblog on North Korean affairs with a concentration on human rights issues (http://freekorea.us). I’m interested in whether AP’s memorandum of understanding allowing for the establishment of the Pyongyang bureau is publicly available, and if so, whether you’d mind sharing a copy with me. I’d also be interested in any subscriber agreements or other agreements you have with the North Korean government or the Korean Central News Agency. Thank you in advance for your assistance.
; “pcolford@AP.org” Sent: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 7:37 PM
Subject: Re: Memos & agreements with N. Korea, establishing P’yang bureau
Hello, as a follow-up, North Korea’s KCNA news agency is reporting that it and the AP are co-sponsoring an art exhibition in New York “mark the significant Day of the Sun, the birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sung.” According to the report, the exhibit will depict “photos of the great men of Mt. Paektu who made immortal contributions to the prosperity of the country, its people’s happiness, the independent and peaceful reunification of the country and the accomplishment of the cause of global independence.” Any truth to that? Also, any answer on whether I can see your MOU’s with KCNA and the North Korean government? Thanks.
I’ve received no response to either message.
Funny thing is, if this were the typical situation of a news organization trying to expose government malfeasance, the news organization could file a FOIA request, get an expedited response, and have its fees waived. But what happens when a news organization agrees, even tacitly, to disseminate that government’s propaganda and its frauds on a global scale? As it turns out, your only recourse is … write a blog post! So just to be clear, the world’s largest wire service has just signed a secret agreement, quite possibly selling out its objectivity to the world’s most oppressive totalitarian state in the process, and unless we can somehow draw attention to that, said news organization can do that with complete impunity. No law provides any recourse to even expose that to the light of day. Perhaps there are good, sound First Amendment reasons for that, but as powerful as the press is, shouldn’t it at least have some accountability to citizens? I live in a city where civil servants live in terror of the press. To most of them, the press is an unelected, unaccountable, omnipotent fourth branch of the government that rules the other three. Every day, journalists write stories about private citizens that expose private details of their lives and cause them terrible anguish. But citizens are almost powerless against the press. It’s very sobering.
Transparency about the things that matter to the public should be for everyone. I want the world to see how the AP has sold out its objectivity to the world’s worst tyranny. I want to put those photos online for everyone to see, and I need your help to do that. And if you’re one of the many journalists who reads this blog, or one of those journalists of better conscience who has communicated with me privately about how inappropriate the AP’s dealings with North Korea have been, then this appeal is especially for you. Right now, it’s the AP’s ethics that are hurting your profession, but what will hurt it even more is that the best of you fall silent out of professional courtesy. A profession finding itself in that situation has a duty to police itself.
Here’s a link to the web page of the gallery hosting the exhibit, along with the hours. It’s at the 8th Floor Gallery, 17 West 17th Street, New York, NY. Directions here. Thanks to Spelunker for the clue that led me to this:
An historic exhibition featuring photos of The Associated Press and the Korean Central News Agency will offer a rare glimpse into a nation long shrouded from view.
The exhibition will open on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of the communist state, and follows AP’s recent opening of a bureau in Pyongyang, North Korea, the first to be established by a western news organization.
Unique access to the KCNA photo archive will offer images illuminating the history of the DPRK, including visits by dignitaries over the years, landscapes, culture and everyday life.
In addition, AP images, both historic and contemporary, will show the country through the eyes of non-Korean photojournalists, including AP Chief Asia Photographer David Guttenfelder, who has made numerous reporting trips to North Korea since 2010. (emphasis mine)
How absolutely shameless. The gallery actually posted some of the photos to be exhibited online. I’ve posted a selection of these below the fold to illustrate my point, which is that only a few of the photographs have any significant artistic merit. Most are merely images of North Korean generals, dictators, or propaganda dioramas. The photo of the policewoman leading the children across the street looks staged, and staged to symbolize how the North Korean regime sees itself, and how it demands to be seen — not just by its own subjects, but now, by the AP’s readership. So taking the purpose of the exhibit at its word, are these images really representative of “the history of the DPRK,” or “everyday life?” Judge for yourself. The first three photos are from the AP, the remaining five are from KCNA.
The people who have been advising us to appease North Korea for the last 20 years keep telling us that if we’d only “engage” with North Korea enough, North Korea would change. Those people and their money haven’t changed North Korea, but North Korea always changes them.
If you go to the exhibit, please be polite, civil, and discreet, and help me tell the rest of the story.