BBC uses LSE Students as Cover to Gain Access to North Korea

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North Korea remains one of the world's most secretive states
North Korea remains one of the world’s most secretive states

Three BBC journalists have used the London School of Economics (LSE) as a cover story to enter North Korea for this week’s Panorama, it has been revealed by The Beaver.

In an email sent out to all students and members of staff at LSE, the Director of the University claims that the BBC forged student credentials for the journalists and used the trip –  organised by the LSE’s Grimshaw International Relations Club – in order for its journalists to gain access to the secretive state and film the Panorama undercover. The Grimshaw Club has, however, has said it had no “organisational responsibilities” with the trip on its official Facebook page.

The London-based University maintains it had “no advance knowledge of the trip or its planning” and thus believes the actions endangered its students as well as damaging LSE’s reputation and prestige abroad.

It also alleges that John Sweeney, the lead journalist, gained entry into North Korea by posing as a PhD student, giving an genuine office number as his address and was addressed as professor during the trip. The email names the other two journalists involved as Mr. Alexander Niakaris and Ms. Tomiko Sweeney.

John Sweeney has denies these allegations, maintaining that the students on the trip were aware of the circumstances – “were told twice” – and has offered to explain his actions to the LSE SU. All students did return safely from the trip.

Panorama has faced scandal over its 'ethics' in recent weeks and comes in the wake of wider problems at the BBC
Panorama has faced scandal over its ‘ethics’ in recent weeks and comes in the wake of wider problems at the BBC

However, the BBC have admitted that the group was somewhat ‘misled’, informing the University that “a journalist” would join the visit without detailing any further information; aka. that a major documentary was going to being filmed. The media company has argued that this “lack of frankness in denying the genuine members of the group the full details was done for their own benefit in the event of discovery and interrogation by North Korean authorities”.

A Twitter row has also erupted this evening between Sweeney – who is continuing to disputed the LSE version of events – and Alex Peters-Day, the LSE Students’ Union General Secretary. Sweeney maintains the actions were needed in the name of free speech and that a North Korean government agency had recently pressured the BBC to pull the documentary.

The visit was approved at the “highest level” of the BBC, who carried out its own risk assessment in which they deemed any risks to be acceptable, despite North Korea being one of the most isolated, controlled and unknown nations on earth and amid rising tensions in the region. The programme, titled ‘North Korea Undercover’, is part of the Panorama series and is due to air this Monday.

LSE is fully supportive of the principle of investigative journalism in the public interest, and applauds the work of journalists in dangerous parts of the world. We cannot, however, condone the use of our name, or the use of our students, as cover for such activities.

Extract From Email to LSE Students & Staff

Panorama was first broadcast during 1953 and is one the world’s longest-running public affairs television programme; these recent revelations come in the wake of a scandal last week where one of its producer resigned after it was revealed that the programme had bribed a security consultant working for luxury property developers, Harlequin.

The University, in response to concerns, has asked the BBC to withdraw the programme and issue a full apology to the University over its actions. The email reveals, however that the Director-General of the BBC, Tony Hall, has refused this request.

The full email, which was sent to all LSE email addresses, can be found here.

The Wessex Scene will continue to follow this story and update it as more information becomes available. More information was added at 9am on April 14th.

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