Back in March, Thomas Curley, the CEO of Associated Press news agency made a private trip to Pyongyang, presumably to secure permission to place a bureau in the capital city. Last month, a delegation led by state-run news outlet KCNA president Kim Pyong-Ho travelled to New York for a followup meeting. It appears the two news agencies have agreed to expand the very basic services currently in place since 2006. From the horse’s mouth:
The Associated Press and the North Korean state news agency have signed a series of agreements, including one for the opening of a comprehensive AP news bureau in Pyongyang, the organizations announced Wednesday.
A memorandum of understanding agreed by the AP and the Korean Central News Agency would expand the AP’s presence in North Korea to a level unmatched by any other Western news organization. It would build upon the AP’s existing video news bureau, which opened in Pyongyang in 2006, by allowing AP text and photo journalists to work in North Korea as well.
With the signing, the agencies agreed to begin work immediately on detailed planning needed to set up and operate the new bureau as quickly as possible. It would be the first permanent text and photo bureau operated by a Western news organization in the North Korean capital.
In addition, the agencies signed a contract designating the AP as the exclusive international distributor of contemporary and historic video from KCNA’s archive. The agencies also plan a joint photo exhibition in New York next year. They already had an agreement between them to distribute KCNA photo archives to the global market, signed earlier this year.
"This agreement between AP and KCNA is historic and significant," AP President and CEO Tom Curley said. "AP is once again being trusted to open a door to better understanding between a nation and the world. We are grateful for this opportunity and look forward to providing coverage for AP’s global audience in our usually reliable and insightful way."
Kim Pyong Ho, president of KCNA, said after a signing ceremony late Tuesday: "I hope this agreement contributes not only to the strengthening of relations between our two news agencies but also to the better understanding between the peoples of our two countries and the improvement of the DPRK-U.S. relations." DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the formal name of the state.
The AP in recent years has been talking with North Korean officials on various topics including how to set up broader access for AP print and photo journalists to Pyongyang. As the contacts progressed, KCNA hosted Curley in Pyongyang in March.
AP Seoul Bureau Chief Jean H. Lee and Chief Asia Photographer David Guttenfelder have made several extensive reporting trips to North Korea in the past several months as part of unprecedented coverage of the country and its people.
What will this mean for journalism in North Korea? In the short term, probably nothing. In the long term (this is the cynic in me speaking)… probably nothing. But it is a notable step, and one we will surely be keeping an eye on.