Frankly, I’m glad to see someone at the AP begin to address my criticisms on their substance, even if the hardest questions went unasked. The original article at Foreign Policy is here. Below is my response, as posted in the comments, with one typo corrected.
I wish the author of this article had offered me an opportunity to comment or respond, because there’s much that the article left unsaid. In any event, I’d like to offer FP’s readers a better understanding of why there was a backlash against the AP’s conduct and some of Lee’s reporting.
(1) The AP refuses to disclose the MOUs with the North Korean government that allowed it to establish its Pyongyang bureau. Readers deserve to know whether those MOUs involve financial transactions, and whether North Korea has placed operational and editorial limits on AP’s reporting.
(2) The article did not broach the topic of AP’s joint propaganda exhibition with the (North) Korean Central News Agency in New York in 2012. Here’s a sample of the content, still hosted on the website of North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun. I suspect most readers who view it will agree with the characterization of “propaganda,” but by all means, decide for yourself. (Hopefully, the hyperlink will show up in this thread; if not, I’ll publish a hyperlinked version of this comment at freekorea-dot-us.)
(3) The author didn’t ask about the legitimate ethical questions raised by the AP partnering with the North Korean “news” agency, KCNA, even after KCNA had passed AP at least one faked photograph, and as it published threats against fellow journalists, and even the President of South Korea.
(4) For an example of how this apparent conflict of interest affected AP Pyongyang’s coverage, the author might have asked about the AP’s (at best) gullible coverage of the tragic case of Park Jong Suk, which was later questioned by The Washington Post.
Yes, having an AP bureau in Pyongyang could have been worthwhile — and might yet be — had it provided its readers more information than misinformation. As an avid consumer of quality reporting about North Korea, I hope this won’t continue to be a lost opportunity. But for a news service to meet its duty to its readers, it needs the courage to ask tough questions, it must free itself of (or least, be transparent about) its entanglements with the subjects of its coverage, and it must be willing to look inward when others point out it may have violated its own code of ethics.
- Joshua Stanton
For more about the AP and its often problematic reporting from North Korea, click here.
In my comment above, I linked to a slideshow of the April 2012 photo exhibition in New York, called Windows on North Korea, that billed itself as “a joint exhibition by The Associated Press and the Korean Central News Agency marking 100 year since the birth of Kim Il Sung.” The slideshow was hosted on the web site of the North Korea’s official newspaper, The Rodong Sinmun, and I wanted readers to decide for themselves whether the content was propaganda, and whether it was an appropriate endeavor for an objective news service to undertake. Unfortunately, I see now that the link has gone dead, so here’s a working link.
The Rodong Sinmun’s description of Windows may also be germane to my point. Although the AP will no doubt try to deny that it’s propaganda, the Rodong Sinmun clearly feels otherwise. For example, on March 7th, the Rodong Sinmun said,
Those concerned of the KCNA who selected photos for exhibition together with AP said the exhibition will display 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.
On March 20th, the Rodong Sinmun described Windows this way:
On display at the exhibition under the theme “True Picture of Korea” are photos of undying revolutionary exploits President Kim Il Sung, leader Kim Jong Il and the dear respected Kim Jong Un performed for the building of a thriving nation, people’s happiness, independent and peaceful reunification of Korea and global independence. Photos also deal with their revolutionary activities and great personalities.
Among them are photos of the might of a harmonious whole of the leader and people, achievements made by the DPRK in different fields including politics, economy and culture under the leadership of the Party and the leader and happy life of the Korean people.
On March 24th, the Rodong Sinmun published its third article about Windows, which interspersed quotations from AP execs with screenshots of coverage of the exhibition, and stated that viewers of the exhibition “were deeply moved to see the true picture of the DPRK in which the leader, the army and people have formed a harmonious whole.” AP Senior Vice President Kathleen Carroll is quoted as saying that “the exhibition is offering people an opportunity to know about the DPRK. “
On April 12, the Rodong Sinmun published its fourth article about Windows, stating that “[t]he exhibition is a clear proof of broad understanding and sympathy of the world progressives with dignified Kim Il Sung’s Korea, Songun Korea.”
On April 20th, the Rodong Sinmun published a fifth article, which said this:
The exhibition gave wide publicity to the personality of generals in Mt. Paektu, peerlessly prominent leaders and the sun of all people produced by Korea, while truthfully showing the struggle and life of the Korean people for their social development and others.
It also vividly dealt with the socialist system in the DPRK which has achieved one victory after another despite the vicious moves of imperialists to stifle it and features of happy people in it.
The exhibition offered not only people from all walks of life and Koreans in the U.S. but the international community an opportunity to have fresh understanding about the DPRK which has been boosted under the wise guidance of its great leader and great party as the days go by.
The exhibition marked a good occasion as it totally mended the wrong understanding of the people about the DPRK created due to the biased and distorted propaganda of the West against the former and gave the international community broad understanding and deep sympathy to know well about the socialist system.
I can’t say whether Ms. Lee has any role in setting up this exhibition or choosing its content. It’s the AP corporate management that’s really responsible for this lapse in objectivity; in fact, several of them are named or quoted in the Rodong Sinmun articles. If they’ve objected to the Rodong Sinmun’s descriptions or the use of their names, I wish they’d say where and when. If they haven’t, it doesn’t exactly suggest that the AP is fearlessly independent or objective. That doesn’t give us much reassurance about its coverage — a fear that, so far, has been justified.