BBC stands by decision to use students for Panorama documentary
The BBC has defended its decision to use a student trip to North Korea as cover to film the forthcoming Panorama documentary despite stringent criticism from the London School of Economics (LSE).
“The majority of the students on the trip support this programme,” said Panorama reporter John Sweeney to BBC News.
Sweeney, who posed as an LSE PhD for the eight-day trip, reaffirmed: “all of the students on the trip are grown ups… all of them were told twice a journalist was coming.”
It wasn’t until arrival in Beijing however, on course to Pyongyang, that the ten students were made aware the “journalist” was in fact a team of three. By this stage it was too late to pull out.
The BBC head of news programmes, Ceri Thomas, admitted to BBC News the students “were under the impression it might have been a print journalist,” but reaffirmed Sweeney’s stance, stating the students “had the information to give an informed consent.”
This follows criticism from various members of the LSE, with suggestions it may undermine the reputation of the college with regards to future trips.
The LSE Students’ Union General Secretary, Alex Peters-Day, told The Telegraph: “academics do a huge amount of work in North Korea, and other politically sensitive areas, and that has been put at risk.”
Meanwhile, chairman of the LSE, Sir Peter Sutherland, lambasted the BBC by suggesting to ITN that “[the students] were not told the full nature of what was happening.” He explicitly reiterated: “the reality is that full and informed consent was never given by the students.”
The views of the LSE and the BBC have been made clear. Sweeney, on the other hand, stressed the importance of hearing from the students themselves. He said: “I know them… [the LSE have been] putting words into the students’ mouths; which the majority of [the students] don’t believe.”
In spite of repeated calls to be pulled, Panorama: North Korea Undercover is set to broadcast tonight on BBC One at 8:30pm.