North Korea Undercover documentary used students to gain access to country
LONDON - A BBC documentary team which went undercover in North Korea breached editorial guidelines, a BBC editorial standards committee has ruled.
In the program entitled: Panorama: North Korea Undercover, reporter John Sweeney and a cameraman joined a group of students from the London School of Economics to gain entry to the secretive communist state and spent eight days undercover.
They traveled with the students and used tourist cameras to film the documentary as they went around the country on a trip organized by North Korean guides.
After the program was aired in April last year, the London School of Economics and the father of one of the students complained.
The General Secretary of the Students' union accused the BBC of using the students as "human shields."
The BBC Trust found that "the BBC failed to consider a number of important issues and risks, and failed to deal with them appropriately."
The findings of the standards committee pointed to several breaches of the organization's guidelines.
The committee said that the daughter of one of the complainants did not have adequate knowledge to give an informed consent.
Also, when the BBC team used the university’s address in their visa applications, it was "inappropriate" and "risked linking LSE with the trip and resulted in unfair treatment" it found.
Alison Hastings, chair of the Editorial Standards Committee, said: "Discovering stories in difficult or dangerous places is one of the BBC's greatest strengths. There was a real public interest in making this programme in North Korea but, in the Trust's view, the BBC failed to ensure that all the young adults Panorama travelled with were sufficiently aware of any potential risks to enable them to give informed consent. This was a serious failing, and the BBC is right to apologise to the complainants."
Professor Craig Calhoun said: "LSE welcomes the finding of the Editorial Standards Committee and the letter of apology issued to the School by the BBC Executive."
The university added: "LSE would like to confirm its strong support for the production of programmes in the public interest and for journalists working to highlight important issues in dangerous parts of the world."
In a statement the BBC said: "BBC News accepts in full the Trust's decision on Panorama’s North Korea Undercover programme broadcast on 15 April 2013. We are pleased that the Trust found that there was a clear and strong public interest in commissioning and broadcasting the programme and that the correct referral procedures and processes were followed by the programme team and senior management. We also accept, however, that aspects of the BBC’s handling of the project fell short in a number of areas, with the Trust finding against the BBC on four of its 21 rulings.
"In particular we have apologized to Student X for the finding by the Trust that insufficient information was given to her ahead of the trip about the involvement of the BBC journalists and the potential risks, which meant that Student X did not have sufficient knowledge on which to give informed consent. We have also apologized to the LSE for the Trust’s finding that the programme created the risk of harm to the LSE’s reputation.
"The Trust recognized that this programme involved a number of finely-balanced editorial judgements and that the BBC spent considerable time evaluating the risks in circumstances which were highly unusual. In the planning for and making of the program BBC News believed that it was treating all the students and the LSE fairly."
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