AP Opens News Bureau in North Korea

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The Associated Press has opened its first news bureau in North Korea, after four years of negotiating with that country's totalitarian regime. Madeleine Brand talks with Nigel Baker, managing director of Associated Press Television News, about the challenge of reporting from such a restrictive society.


It's DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.


And I'm Madeleine Brand. It's not always easy to get news from a place like North Korea. The communist-run country is one of the most secretive in the world, and all media is tightly controlled by the government. But Associated Press TV is planning to give the news game in North Korea a try. This week, the news service announced plans to open a bureau in Pyongyang.

Nigel Baker is the Managing Director of Associated Press television news; he joins me now from Beijing. He's just returned from Pyongyang. And I assume, Mr. Baker, you were there to set up your bureau?

Mr. NIGEL BAKER (Managing Director of International Television, Associated Press): I was indeed. I was there for the official opening. It's a process, which has taken four years to negotiate and involved detailed conversations both with the state broadcaster, Korean Radio and Television, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs there.

BRAND: One organization, Reporters without Frontiers, says North Korea is the world's worst violator of press freedom; so how can you possibly operate an independent news organization there?

Mr. BAKER: Well, we have experience of operating in regimes in every part of the world, and they cover many different political shades. So we will use our expertise to try to push the boundaries of what can be reported.

BRAND: What kind of things do you hope to report?

Mr. BAKER: A mixture. Obviously the thing that the world is interested in is the political situation, the nuclear issue, the relationship, of course, with South Korea is a story, which is important to the region. And also we will try to endeavor to show how life affects the ordinary people in North Korea.

BRAND: And what about sensitive topics such as torture of dissidents, famine, forced labor; there have been reports of forced abortions, infanticide, in labor camps, things like that.

Mr. BAKER: Obviously, we shan't shy away from difficult topics. We will strive to get as much access as we can.

BRAND: But how will you go about getting those stories if everything is so tightly controlled and I understand foreigners are routinely assigned Korean government minders to follow them everywhere they go. How will you get independent information?

Mr. BAKER: We will obviously face a situation where we encounter government minders, but we're used to dealing with that situation and we will try to tell as much of the story as we can.

BRAND: And why did the North Korean's allow you to operate there? What - why is it in their interest?

Mr. BAKER: Well, I think that's obviously a question that they would have to answer. But certainly AP Television reaches 500 of the world's major national and international broadcasters with its coverage.

BRAND: And when do you begin operating?

Mr. BAKER: We are beginning operating this week. We've had the formal opening of the bureau, but we should be operational as soon as possible.

BRAND: And what's the first story to come out of Pyongyang?

Mr. BAKER: Well, I think you'll have to wait and see. But over the last four years, we've had regular and sustained access to the country and we've been able to report on political developments there, we've been able to give exclusive coverage on several stories, and that's what we plan to do in the future.

BRAND: Well, Mr. Baker, thank you very much.

Mr. BAKER: Thank you.

BRAND: Nigel Baker is the managing director for Associated Press Television News. Their bureau in Pyongyang, North Korea, opened this week.

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