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BBC 'used LSE students as human shield' in North Korea

Three BBC journalists accompanied 10 London School of Economics students and spent eight days in the country. The LSE students' union's Alex Peters-Day said Monday's programme should be dropped because students were lied to and could not give informed consent. But the BBC said the students had been properly warned ahead of the trip. Head of news programmes Ceri Thomas said the North Korean government was the only party the BBC had deceived. "We have a duty to give enough information to people on a trip like this so they can give us fully informed consent," he said. "There were 10 students. We told them there would be a journalist on the trip and, if that journalist was discovered, it could mean detention and that it could mean arrest." Nine of the students were aged 21-28 while one was 18, he said.

'Student welfare'
 
The LSE complains the students had not been told there was an undercover team of three, filming a high-profile documentary.

Panorama reporter John Sweeney spent eight days undercover inside North Korea for the programme, travelling with his wife and a cameraman.

Mr Thomas admitted they had initially been told it was one journalist but that, when they were in Beijing before they flew into Pyongyang, they were told there would be three journalists.

He said North Korea was "one of the most oppressive regimes on the planet which is threatening nuclear war in the Korean peninsular".

The "public interest arguments" for making and showing the programme were "overwhelming", he added.

He said three of the students had since asked "that their images be taken out" and that they would be "pixellated or blobbed".

LSE students' union general secretary, Ms Peters-Day - who was not on the trip - told the BBC News Channel: "One of the students made it absolutely clear that she was not made aware of what happened.

"For us, this is a matter of student welfare - students were lied to, they weren't able to give their consent."

She said all LSE's future research was "now at risk".

"I think the trip was organised by the BBC as potentially a ruse for them to get into North Korea and that's disgraceful.

"They've used students essentially as a human shield in this situation."

LSE pro-director Prof George Gaskell said students had been put in a "potentially extremely dangerous" situation.

The university had been told last week that the BBC had used the party as cover for Panorama filming during the eight-day trip, he added.

He said he was glad LSE staff had not been left "wondering about how we were going to get these students out of solitary confinement in some North Korean jail".

"I think there is less danger to students than there is to my colleagues," he added.

"Some of my colleagues at the present are in Africa, China and various other sensitive countries.

"If their independence and integrity is challenged, they may find themselves in considerable risk."

'Extreme censorship'
 
Meanwhile Universities UK, the umbrella body for UK universities, said it regretted "the BBC's approach in this matter".

"Universities must be able to work with integrity and operate in sensitive areas of the world," chief executive Nicola Dandridge said.

She added: "The way that this BBC investigation was conducted might not only have put students' safety at risk, but may also have damaged our universities' reputations overseas."

Panorama reporter John Sweeney said the majority of the students he had travelled with supported the programme.

"What the LSE is saying we dispute," he told BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House programme.

He added: "All of those students could have dobbed me in, they didn't."

He described North Korea as a "Nazi state" that practised the "most extreme form of censorship".

He added: "It's more like Hitler's Germany than any other state in this world right now. It's extraordinarily scary, dark and evil."

bbc

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