ABC News Intensifies Efforts in North Korea

North Korea has not been the most hospitable destination for Western journalists, but ABC News has made the tightly controlled dictatorship a priority.

Bob Woodruff traveled there last week to report on the country’s ongoing denuclearization. He’ll also cover the New York Philharmonic’s historic performance in the capital city of Pyongyang Tuesday, which will air on PBS Tuesday at 8 p.m. (EST) on Great Performances. WNET New York will also stream the performance live at 4 a.m. on its video portal.

For ABC, the relationship with North Korea extends back decades. “I’ve been working on trying to gain access to North Korea since the early 90s,” said Chuck Lustig, director of foreign news coverage at ABC.

Lustig has traveled to North Korea seven times to meet with government officials and negotiate access. The news division’s first big break didn’t come until 2005, when Woodruff reported from the country the first time. In 2006, Diane Sawyer traveled to North Korea and the network devoted one hour in primetime to her dispatches from inside the country.

Unparalleled access still comes with government chaperones. “We always have our government minders with us,” Lustig conceded. “They’re always at our side.

But their escorts are less militant than in years past. Indeed, one of the biggest changes inside the country, Lustig said, has been “the way they treat journalists. We have gotten really tremendous access. We are able to talk to regular North Koreans. To me, that’s a big difference.”

Woodruff will report from North Korea for the next several days for ABC News’ various broadcasts, including the weekend editions of Good Morning America, World News with Charles Gibson and Nightline.

He was allowed inside the Yongbyon Nuclear Facility. That report will air Friday on World News. He’ll also visit the southern city of Kaesong, where South Koreans are permitted to travel. And he’ll be on GMA Tuesday for a preview of the Philharmonic concert, which will just be wrapping up.

However, there are several stories ABC News is still finessing in North Korea. “At the top of the list,” Lustig said, “remains an interview with [leader] Kim Jong-il.”