BBC Uses Unknowing Students as Cover to Gain Access to North KoreaS

The BBC gained access to North Korea last month by using a London School of Economics student group as cover and posing as professors, while risking the unknowing students the ire of the North Korean regime.

In a letter from Professor Craig Calhoun, the director of the London School of Economics, the BBC is accused of deliberately misleading a group of students as to the involvement of the BBC. The BBC has told the school that the students were kept in the dark about the true identities of the reporters to protect the students from interrogation by the North Korean authorities (the same authorities that have detained foreign journalists (okay, probably spies) in the past). However, Calhoun is unsatisfied with that reasoning,

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.

The trip was organized by The Grimshaw Club, a student society of the International Relations Department. The students acted independently of the school, but trips by the society to foreign countries are common. BBC journalist John Sweeney (above, with DPRK official), along with other BBC staff members, then posed as faculty of the school, using a real office address on campus and being addressed by the North Koreans as "professor."

The BBC used the trip to film the documentary "North Korea Undercover," which will air tomorrow in the UK. The LSE has asked the BBC to pull the documentary from its schedule, but the BBC has told them that the show will go on air as planned.

A student who went on the trip told The Beaver, the official newspaper of the LSE Students' Union, that "we were not made aware of the presence of several BBC journalists at the time of the flight to Pyongyang. We were led to believe that John Sweeney was a History professor, although it was later implied that he was not a professor at the LSE."

Calhoun writes of the damage the BBC might have done to academic study of the secretive nation, "The BBC's actions may do serious damage to LSE's reputation for academic integrity and may have seriously compromised the future ability of LSE students and staff to undertake legitimate study of North Korea, and very possibly of other countries where suspicion of independent academic work runs high."

The series the documentary is a part of, Panorama, was also recently mired in scandal when it was revealed that it had bribed a security consultant who was working for luxury property developers.

[BBC]