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14 Apr, 2013 02:56

UK's top financial school slams secret BBC trip to N. Korea

UK's top financial school slams secret BBC trip to N. Korea

The world renowned London School of Economics has accused the BBC of endangering the lives of its students, claiming that in order to covertly shoot a documentary investigative journalists sneaked into North Korea using fake LSE credentials.

To access the secretive North Korea, the BBC forged student credentials for three of its journalists, the Commentator has discovered from an email from a director at the LSE director’s to the broadcaster. “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,” the letter reads.

According to the letter the trip to North Korea was organized by the LSE's Grimshaw Club but was used to sneak in the BBC’s undercover journalists without the consent of the London University.

The email alleges that journalist John Sweeney gained entry to the communist country by posing as a PhD student and on entry described himself to the N. Korean authorities as an “LSE student, PhD in History” also providing an office number and his address at the LSE.

A North Korean soldier looks south through a pair of binoculars on the North side at the "Truce Village" of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone, which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul, about 55 km (34 miles) north of Seoul April 13, 2013. (Reuters/Jung U-Jean)

The BBC says the students were told a journalist was among the group and warned of the risks.

But the email says that BBC staff had admitted that the “group was deliberately misled as to the involvement of the BBC in the visit. The line used was that ‘a journalist’ would join the visit.’ The director further argues that the BBC explained such secretive behavior with a need to protect the entire group “in the event of discovery and interrogation by North Korean authorities.”

In light of this, the LSE has asked the BBC to withdraw the planned episode and issue a full apology to “for the actions of BBC staff in using the School and its good reputation as a means of deception.”

The BBC has rejected the accusation, saying that all the necessary precautions had been taken prior to the trip and that the crew was clear about its intention.

“We recognized 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,” the BBC said in a statement.

North Koreans wait for a bus in Pyongyang on April 11, 2012. (AFP Photo/Pedro Ugarte)


The statement also suggested that all of the students were “explicitly warned about the potential risks of travelling to North Korea with the journalist as part of their group.” In his Twitter, Sweeney disputed the university’s statement and said he was ready to explain the details of the event.


LSE students knew and understood what was at stake for them before trip. They consented. Trip not organised by LSE.

— john sweeney (@johnsweeneyroar) April 13, 2013

John Sweeney graduated from LSE in 1980 with a degree in Government. The university maintains that currently he is not an LSE student and that he does not work for the LSE, but nevertheless “gained entry to North Korea by posing as a PhD student” and that the North Korean guides during the visit repeatedly addressed him as professor, a title he actively acknowledged.