Agence France-Presse officially opened a new bureau in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang last week, holding an opening ceremony attended by Emmanuel Hoog, the group’s chief executive and chairman.
The new office will focus on producing video and photographic content, and the news follows an agreement made earlier in the year between AFP and the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
“They held an official opening ceremony. It’s a milestone for us. Our mission is to cover the entire world,” Marc Lavine, AFP editor in chief for the Asia-Pacific said.
The Pyongyang Bureau will be staffed by a locally hired videographer and photographer, who will work in conjunction with visiting foreign correspondents. This system mirrors that of other international news bureaus, including the Associated Press, Xinhua, Ria Novosti and Japan’s Kyodo News. AP opened the first foreign bureau in 2012.
Just after the signing in January AFP’s Asia-Pacific regional director Philippe Massonnet, in an interview Germany’s DW website, said that as a worldwide news agency “we have to be wherever we can. For us, it is normal and natural to open an office in North Korea, as we open offices everywhere in the world. We have 200 offices in 150 countries, so it is just one more place where we have to be.”
The question is with North Korea being one of the most secretive countries in the world with total media censorship, how can AFP function? “Well, there are still many countries in the world where AFP is currently working and where it is very difficult to work. The fact that a country is secretive is no reason why AFP shouldn’t be there.
“We will be able to publish whatever we can. Everything produced by AFP in North Korea will be edited by AFP people, mainly in our regional headquarters in Hong Kong. There is no difference from anywhere else in the region where we have people taking photos or videos or writing stories.”
As to how it works out for day-to-day operations “we will have to see”.
The two North Korean staff, who will be there permanently, will be trained in Hong Kong. AFP’s Seoul bureau chief will run the bureau while teams from South Korea, Hong Kong or China will be sent in each month as North Korea does not allow foreign journalists to be permanently based in the country.