Sunday, April 14, 2013

London School of Economics denounces BBC tactics

LONDON (AP) ? The renowned London School of Economics has denounced the BBC for using a student-organized trip to North Korea as "cover" for a reporting trip to the secretive communist country.

The LSE said in a statement Saturday the BBC put students at risk by having at least one of a team of three journalists pretend to be affiliated with the university to gather material for a TV program set to be broadcast Monday.

The university says it has tried and failed to persuade the BBC not to air the program.

The BBC's John Sweeney, who LSE officials say posed as a post-graduate LSE student, said Sunday it was "entirely wrong" for the university to try to prevent the broadcast from going forward.

LSE blamed BBC for not being forthcoming about its reporting plans in North Korea, where foreign reporting crews usually have to operate under strict supervision.

In an email sent to staff and students, the university complained that the BBC "Panorama" program was "produced using as cover a visit to North Korea which took place from 23-30 March 2013 in the name of the Grimshaw Club, a student society at LSE."

It said the group included Sweeney and journalists Alexander Niakaris and Tomiko Sweeney.

"In advance of the trip, it was not known to the rest of the party that they were three journalists working for or with the BBC," the email said. Their purpose, posing as tourists, was to film and record overtly during the visit in order to produce the 'Panorama' program."

The school said the students would have been in "serious danger," if the scheme had been uncovered while they were in North Korea.

The BBC has faced intense criticism in the last year for its handling of an investigation into alleged sexual abuses committed by the late Jimmy Saville, one of its star presenters.

A BBC statement released Sunday indicated that the students "were all explicitly warned about the potential risks" of traveling to North Korea with journalists as part of this group. It said they were warned that the might face "arrest and detention."

The statement said BBC recognized it was raising the risks to the students by adding a journalist to the group.

Sweeney also defended the BBC on one of its programs Sunday morning. He said the LSE's version of events is not accurate.

A BBC story about the trip says Sweeney and a two-person crew that included his wife spent "eight days undercover" in North Korea.


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