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BBC's North Korea documentary to air tonight despite LSE complaints

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The BBC’s 'North Korea Undercover' is set to air tonight despite complaints over the use of LSE students as cover. 

John Sweeney, one of the BBC’s top investigative journalists, gained entry to the country posing as an “LSE student, PHD in History”, attaching himself, his wife and a BBC cameraman to a party of ten LSE students.

The BBC insists the students were briefed before the visit, but has been forced to admit to a certain amount of deception. Students were told “a journalist” would accompany them on their trip and no mention was made of a major documentary being filmed. However, it is only once the students reached Beijing, halfway into their trip, that they were made aware of whom the three journalists were.

The London School of Economics’ reaction to the revelations has been one of outrage. According to LSE, the university was not made aware of the visit, which took place between the 23th-30th March, until a meeting with BBC officials on 9th April.

The following day, LSE’s chairman requested that the BBC pull the documentary and issue a full apology, but Tony Hall, the recently appointed Director General of the broadcaster, insists that the documentary is in the highest public interest and will go ahead. A North Korean government agency has also asked that the documentary isn't broadcast. 

In an email to staff and students of the university, LSE said that “the risks taken were unacceptable”, despite the BBC stating that a full risk assessment was made before the trip. It also said that “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.”

The university remains concerned that the BBC’s actions may have jeopardised future trips from staff and students to dangerous locations as part of their research.

Two students and the parents of another have voiced their complaints, and the BBC has agreed to pixelate their images for the documentary. 

Panorama: North Korea Undercover is on BBC1 Monday 15th April at 9pm.




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