BBC denies endangering students with undercover visit to North Korea

The Panorama reporter John Sweeney, who joined LSE students on a field trip to North Korea. Photograph: Eamonn Mccabe


Panorama reporter accompanied London School of Economics students to communist country to carry out secret filming

The BBC has denied claims that it put students from a London university at risk when an undercover journalist accompanied them on a field trip toNorth Korea.

John Sweeney, a reporter for the Panorama programme, is said to have joined the student group from the London School of Economics (LSE) on a visit to the communist country so he could carry out secret filming.

The LSE says the students “were not given enough information to enable informed consent”, and were “endangered”, the BBC reported.

The LSE’s director, Prof Craig Calhoun, accused the corporation of “lies and deception from the outset” and of putting the students at risk, telling Sky News it was “unwilling to take responsibility” for the risks it had caused.

But the BBC denied giving students insufficient information about the plans for secret reporting. In a statement, a Panorama spokeswoman said: “We recognised that because it could increase the risks of the trip, the students should be told in advance that a journalist intended to travel with them, in order to enable the students to make their decision about whether they wanted to proceed.

“They were given this information, and were reminded of it again, in time to have been able to change their plans if they wanted to. The students were all explicitly warned about the potential risks of travelling to North Korea with the journalist as part of their group.

“This included a warning about the risk of arrest and detention and that they might not be allowed to return to North Korea in the future.”

Calhoun said the students acknowledged that they were told a journalist would be accompanying them, but said they were not told who, or that two other journalists would be filming.

He told Sky News: “The school was not informed at all in any way about this. The BBC chose to present this as though the reporters were LSE students or staff.

“The BBC chose also to make this appear as if it was an LSE trip, when it was not.” He added: “I would like the BBC to pull the programme so that it is not showing footage of our students and creating dangers.”

An email sent to LSE students and staff said university authorities did not have advance knowledge of the visit, the BBC reported.

The email said: “At no point prior to the trip was it made clear to the students that a BBC team of three had planned to use the trip as cover for a major documentary to be shown on Panorama.

“It is LSE’s view that the students were not given enough information to enable informed consent, yet were given enough to put them in serious danger if the subterfuge had been uncovered prior to their departure from North Korea.”

On its website Panorama says Sweeney spent eight days undercover in the “most rigidly controlled nation on Earth”, in which he “witnesses a landscape bleak beyond words, a people brainwashed for three generations and a regime happy to give the impression of marching towards Armageddon”.

Courtesy: The Guardian