In a ceremony today in Pyongyang, the Associated Press opened a full news bureau to cover North Korea. The AP already has had a video bureau in North Korea since 2006; the new outfit will add writers and photojournalists to its operations in the notoriously-sealed off dictatorship. Does the AP’s new operation signal an expansion of press freedom in North Korea?
Various reports on North Korea’s oppressive media policies make optimism difficult. North Korea, in the words of a 2011 Freedom House report, is “the most repressive media environment in the world.” The report notes that “authorities sharply curtail the ability of foreign journalists to gather information by seizing their mobile telephones upon arrival, preventing them from talking to people on the street, and constantly monitoring their movements.” A 2004 document from Reporters Without Borders details the extent of state censorship, noting that North Korean media “carried no reports at all” about the mid-1990s famine that killed over two million of its people—perhaps 10 percent of the country’s entire population. And a tiny step forward for the AP in North Korea is still no reason to think that North Korea will soon develop its own free press. After all, as another document from Reporters Without Borders notes, this is the country where a journalist was once sent to an ideological re-education camp for misspelling Kim Jong-il’s name.