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Controversy After BBC Reporter Poses As PhD Student To Make Film In North Korea

posted Apr 15, 2013, 10:53 AM by Mpelembe

British university accuses BBC of putting students at risk after a reporter poses as a PhD student to make undercover documentary in North Korea.

NORTH KOREA  (BBC PANORAMA) -  A leading British university criticised the BBC on Sunday for arranging an academic trip to North Korea to make an undercover documentary, saying it had put students who were unaware of the plans in danger.

The London School of Economics (LSE) said three BBC journalists - including the respected reporter John Sweeney - joined a student society trip at the end of March, posing as tourists to make a film about the secretive state.

The university said the students had been told "a journalist" would accompany them, but it had not been made clear the BBC's aim was to use the visit to record an undercover film for "Panorama", a current affairs programme.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have escalated in recent weeks, with North Korea threatening nuclear war against the United States and South Korea.

Alex Peters-Day, general secretary of the LSE's student union, said the students were only told of the BBC's intentions to make an undercover film at a very late stage, with one saying she was only informed when they were on the plane to North Korea.

She said the BBC had used the students as "human shields".

The university said Sweeney, who graduated from the LSE in 1980, had posed as a history PhD student at the university to gain entry to the country even though he currently had no connections with the institution.

It said the LSE's chairman had asked the BBC to pull the documentary, which is due to be shown on Monday, but the broadcaster's director-general had refused.

Sweeney admitted he had lied to the North Korean government agency that helped organise the visit, but defended the BBC's actions.

Ceri Thomas, the Head of BBC News Programmes, said the students had been told twice about the possible dangers of having a journalist on the trip, but were not informed about the broadcaster's plans to make an undercover film because it would have put them in a worse position had the BBC team been found out.

Panorama's website said Sweeney had spent eight days undercover "inside the most rigidly-controlled nation on Earth".

The LSE said aspects of North Korea were legitimate objects of study in several academic disciplines but said the BBC may have seriously damaged the university's reputation, and jeopardised future visits to North Korea and other countries.