AP Watch

AP VP denies N. Korean censorship, says he’s being treated well, confesses to “brigandish madcap war crimes.”

my apologies to rose bucher“KIM JONG” BILL RICHARDSON’S FIXER, TONY NAMKUNG, is one of those people who is so thoroughly despised by some North Korea watchers that they hesitate to express their views without consulting their lawyers. I know I should explain, but I haven’t consulted my lawyer. Instead, I’ll again refer you to this piece by Nir Rosen that paints Namkung in an unflattering light (without even seeming to try to do so).  This week, Don Kirk convinces me that I don’t care much for Tony Namkung, either:

One of Namkung’s more impressive roles was that of adviser and intermediary for the Associated Press in opening a bureau in Pyongyang. Not surprisingly, one topic you don’t hear him talking about, or see mentioned in the AP’s upbeat coverage from there, is human rights.

Also not surprisingly, the AP had the inside track on Schmidt’s visit. At every photo-op, he and Richardson were seen smiling benignly. They were not about to offend their hosts with quotes about the inherent conflict between the quest for openness and transparency and North Korea’s policy of total suppression.

Well said, sir.

A year into the AP Pyongyang experiment, the AP seems uncharacteristically ambivalent about inviting media reflection on its record, although AP can’t avoid it entirely. Part of the reason may be that AP turns out to be pretty awful at media relations. For example, I don’t think AP Vice President John Daniszewski did much to help his case when, after leaving his anniversary meeting in Pyongyang with Tony Namkung, he told the VOA that AP’s reporting from Pyongyang isn’t subject to North Korean censorship. This wouldn’t be news at all if it wasn’t such a shock to our common sense:

A vice president of the Associated Press said news stories dispatched from the media outlet’s Pyongyang bureau are not censored by North Korean authorities although its reporters sometimes face difficulties securing access to news sources, a report by the Voice of America (VOA) said.

John Daniszewski said in an interview with VOA conducted on Jan. 10 that the AP news bureau in Pyongyang strictly follows the rules used to produce stories elsewhere and articles are not subject to state censorship in the North.

Daniszewski also announced that the AP stylebook would henceforth dictate the use of 14-point type for Kim Jong Un’s name and the small “s” for “south Korea.”

Now, far be it for me of all people to defend the AP here, but Daniszewski might be partially right about one thing — I mean, why should North Korea see any need to censor work that KNCA could just as well have written itself, and in some cases, actually may have? What KCNA didn’t write, it certainly stage-managed. What I’d really like to know is whether AP editors ever censor any of the KCNA-guided spectaclesshow trialshymns, and eulogies the AP is passing off to hundreds of millions of readers as journalism.

The executive said AP reporters in Pyongyang have difficulties accessing certain locations or events, but they are trying to resolve problems through discussions with authorities, adding stories sent from the bureau get verified through the same standards the news agency uses across the world.

What, you mean, just like the AP verified Park Jong Suk’s televised confession, while flanked by her terrified family members, that she was hoodwinked by south Korean spies to betray and abandon the fatherland and its wise and compassionate leader?

Daniszewski also said that he sensed some changes in the regime after North Korean media started showing Kim Jong-un accompanied by his wife attending public events. Such scenes were almost unheard of for the previous North Korean leader. Kim took over running the country in December 2011, after the sudden death of his father Kim Jong-il.

Yes, The people of North Korea have noticed some changes, too.  So has at least one of your reporters, who’s covering the story from beyond the minders’ reach.  Unfortunately, those changes aren’t the positive kind.  (The U.N., for its part, says that despite “some initial hopes” for “some positive change in the human rights situation” after the coronation of His Porcine Majesty, there is “almost no sign of improvement.”)  Most of the evidence actually shows that North Korea has become — if that’s possible — an even more closed society since then.

Why would any self-respecting journalist tell us things he should know are false? He could be merely ill-informed, biased, or (like his Pyongyang bureau chief) taken in by the regime’s illusions.  To me, he mostly sounds very worried about how his words will be received in Pyongyang.  This duress is several degrees removed from Park Jong Suk’s, but Daniszewski still comes off like he’s making a hostage video.  For a man who’s trying to convince us that AP’s coverage isn’t censored, he sounds awfully censored himself.

He, however, noted that the world will probably have to wait and see before determining what course the present leader will take regarding the country’s foreign relations.

Really?  So two missile tests later, you’re still seeing a blank slate, then?

The AP plans to dispatch reporters from its headquarters to the Pyongyang bureau within this year and expand coverage to the science and medical science sectors in the communist country, he said. The firm also wants to secure an opportunity to interview the North Korean leader, he added.

And so the motives are laid bare — no price is too high to pay for access!  I look forward to the AP’s fearless and penetrating questions of His Porcine Majesty about the fate of Camp 22‘s prisoners, refugee and information crackdowns, the chronically misspent wealth and frustration of food aid monitoring, and those agricultural reforms we heard so much about last fall.  For its part, the AP’s North Korean partner agency, its feet planted firmly on the trap door over Hell, insists that there are no prison camps, no starving kkotjaebi, and no political prisoners.  Do you suppose Kim Jong Un’s handlers would allow him to be asked about these things, in the same way that Bashar Asad was, to his everlasting global humiliation?  Wouldn’t it be tempting for the AP to simply agree not to bring these uncomfortable topics up?

Meanwhile, we look forward to Jean Lee’s exclusive coverage of the next Kimjongilia Festival. Hail ants!

In other words, the AP hasn’t learned the first rule of engagement:  it never changes North Korea; it just changes you.  North Korea hasn’t become more transparent, but the AP has become compromised, corrupted, opaque, and defensive.  Point me to any example of successful engagement (if you can) and I’ll respond that those smuggled South Korean DVDs in the jangmadang made a thousand times more difference without paying for a single fuel rod.

In the year since its executives flew to Pyongyang, bowed before a towering idol of Kim Il Sung, and cut the ribbon on their new bureau, AP has been to North Korea what The Atlantic has been for Scientologyonly more.  If even AP is celebrating that anniversary so quietly, it can’t be particularly proud of the returns on its compromises.



  1. At least Scientolgy had to pay for their advertisement in the Atlantic. It wasn’t labeled as clearly as some people would like…but it was labeled. north Korea gets the promotional coverage for free…wait, the AP probably pays for the shilling they do for north Korea. Carrying the water for a brutal dictatorship…and paying for the privilege of doing so. Way to go, AP!


  2. Really appreciate that you’re bringing us insightful info on a lot of things that I was so blind to . It’s has been a pleasure trying to catch up your past write-ups



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