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Associated Press North Korea Bureau Opens As First All-Format News Office In Pyongyang

Ap North Korea

Posted: 01/16/12 10:11 AM ET

NEW YORK -- When Associated Press executives and journalists attempted to open a North Korean bureau last month, they arrived in Pyongyang just hours after the death of Kim Jong Il.

AP journalists hit the ground running and provided text and photos of the historic time inside North Korea to news outlets around the world. The bureau's official opening, however, was postponed as the country mourned.

But on Monday, AP executives were back in Pyongyang to formally launch the first full-time, all-format western news bureau in North Korea, a totalitarian country that ranks near the bottom of the world's press freedom index. Even with a base of operations in the capital, it still won't be easy reporting within the hermetically-sealed country. However, executive editor Kathleen Carroll said the AP "does not submit to censorship" anywhere in the world, including North Korea.

"We wouldn't have set up a bureau if we hadn't been able to operate the way we'd like to operate," Carroll told The Huffington Post by phone Monday morning from Pyongyang.

Carroll noted that "every country has its own challenges" and AP journalists don't wander freely in North Korea just as they couldn't wander freely while reporting on a military base in various countries. But "when we have asked permission to go places," she said, "we've been able to go."

The AP first broke into the nation in 2006, opening a video-only bureau in Pyongyang. Monday's opening of an all-format bureau follows a year of negotiations with state-run Korea Central News Agency. The AP first announced plans for the office in June.

In the Pyongyang bureau, veteran AP journalists who've covered the region for years will work alongside North Korean journalists. Carroll described the staffing as a merging of "outsiders' curiosity and insiders' knowledge."

Carroll said there may be "some bumps in the road" covering North Korea, but noted that the news organization has, at times, run afoul of governments throughout the world. But it's worth it, she said, given that "the hunger for information about North Korea and its people is so immense."

While the AP's presence is significant for western news consumers, it may not greatly effect North Koreans. News outlets worldwide will benefit from running AP dispatches with a Pyongyang dateline, and yet the country's own citizens will still have only state-run media. Given the absence of independent media, Carroll noted, "we don't have any customers in North Korea."

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