[KS] BBC journalists pose as LSE university students in North Korea

Jim Hoare jim at jhoare10.fsnet.co.uk
Mon Apr 15 10:30:07 EDT 2013

As usual, it is clear that we are not all going to agree on this subject.
It is however, unfair to refer to ‘spoiled brats’ at the LSE; they were
the ones exploited by Mr Sweeney, not me nor anyone else on this list.

It is noticeable that the BBC management is saying that Mr Sweeney and his
colleagues realized that there might be implications for the students if
the deception was discovered and that that was why there had been no full
disclosure of what was planned until it was too late for people to back
out. It is also noticeable that Mr Sweeney’s BBC colleagues are not buying
his argument in the interviews that I have seen. They are also pretty
scathing about the idea that there will be anything special in a programme
made while part of a tour group. As Dr Keun de Custer has pointed out, you
can get any number of such accounts on the web.

Mr Sweeney has also, by apparently hinting that he was an academic - he
did not demur at the title ‘professor’ being used - undermined the
ability of genuine academics to go and probably undone some of the work on
such exchanges that has been going on for years. As the LSE administration
has indicated, this deception could have consequences far beyond North

And do not journalists protest vigorously if others, such as intelligence
agencies,  use journalistic cover?

As for it being necessary for journalists to pretend to be something else
in order to go to North Korea, that is just not the case. Many do go. AP
has an office there. They are of course restricted but so are tour groups,
so what is the advantage of the deception?

Jim Hoare


From: Koreanstudies [mailto:koreanstudies-bounces at koreaweb.ws] On Behalf Of
Minkyu Sung
Sent: 15 April 2013 13:42
To: Korean Studies Discussion List
Subject: Re: [KS] BBC journalists pose as LSE university students in


>From a history of journalism perspective, I would say, there would be few
contemporary journalists who try to claim their "public interest"
legitimacy by sacrificing innocent persons in society. In my view, the
issue is not whether or not visitors to North Korea are "among the world's
best protected people"--as Don Kirk shares his own travel experience in NK
there's a reason--but who can legitimately be sacrificed  by the
"courageous" (this would be better than the term "heroic"?) reporting. Can
a journalist's moral sense for the public interest simply overwhelm his or
her ethical commitment?




Minkyu Sung

Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, South Korea


On 2013. 4. 15., at 오후 8:34, don kirk <kirkdon at yahoo.com> wrote:

This palaver is regrettable. There's no shred of evidence any NKorean ever
got into trouble for the shenanigans of visitors -- the BBC mission having
been one of many such ventures. I ran into the same head guide for my visit
in 2005 and again 2008. He talked to me at some length. KNTO and Koryo
Tours (the latter never handled my visits incidentally) will go on as
usual. Nobody's claiming heroics -- nothing heroic about going there, very
simple once you get the visa. Visitors may be among the world's best
protected people, shielded from all harm while also shielded from seeing
stuff they don't want seen. Trips can be quite routine when you're led to
some of the same places every time, but they're the best one can do when
the place is closed to the kind of reporting one can do even in repressed
dictatorships.(No other country on earth compels visitors to line up in
front of statues of their deceased leaders, bow and place flowers.) It's
unfortunate some listees don't respect what the BBC, and others, are trying
to do. Some listees seem to place higher priority on sensitivities about
which they have no evidence than the need to attempt, against odds, to
convey a modicum of understanding to the rest of the world.

Don Kirk

--- On Mon, 4/15/13, Ruediger Frank <ruediger.frank at univie.ac.at> wrote:

From: Ruediger Frank <ruediger.frank at univie.ac.at>
Subject: Re: [KS] BBC journalists pose as LSE university students in North
To: "Korean Studies Discussion List" <koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
Cc: "Keith Howard" <kh at soas.ac.uk>, "Jim Hoare" <jim at JHOARE10.FSNET.CO.UK>,
BAKS at JISCMAIL.AC.UK, "don kirk" <kirkdon at yahoo.com>, "Morriss, Peter" <pete.
morriss at NUIGALWAY.IE>, "McCann, David" <dmccann at fas.harvard.edu>, "Balazs
Szalontai" <aoverl at yahoo.co.uk>
Date: Monday, April 15, 2013, 2:19 AM

Dear all,
I find this behavior highly unethical and irresponsible, for a number of
In addition to the many points made already, let's not be too self-
centered. The feelings of LSE students and potential aid workers are
important, but one affected group we have ignored so far. There were North
Koreans responsible for that trip: folks from KNTO (the tourism
organization) and others. They will now, away from the public eye and not
protected by a Western passport, face allegations of not having done their
job properly. I have always been deeply annoyed by the fact that such
allegedly "heroic" behavior by Westerners - seriosly, what can happen to us
in the worst case? - is taking place at the expense of those nameless
people who are left behind in NK and who will have to bear all the wrath of
the regime. We talk about human rights in NK and so on in our Sunday
speeches, but in fact we don't give a bloody damn about the people there.
This is disgusting.
Besides, the NK state has also been lied to. Such behavior enforces
stereotypes about Westerners who cannot be trusted. Not that anyone would
care, but I wanted to at least mention that.
Great, good job. And all that for stuff (I suppose) that I and 1000 others
have filmed again and again before? Wow.
I have decided not to give any interviews to BBC anymore. Well, they'll
Prof. Rudiger Frank, Vienna
PS: I forgot the tour operator, most likely Koryo tours. Their business is
not going to get easier. But why should the BBC care? It's in the holy name
of truth (about others), isn't it. Collateral damage, so what.

on Sonntag, 14. April 2013 at 22:15 you wrote:


I trust that some list members have heard of the lead news story today on
the BBC, about three BBC journalists who accompanied students from the LSE -
under the disguise of themselves claiming to be students. A BBC spokesman
has claimed that to film the documentary (due to be broadcast tomorrow), it
was worthwhile putting students at risk (Can this be right? - it was what
their spokesman said on Radio 4 this afternoon). 

See:  <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22144667> http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-

I would be interested in colleagues' reactions. 

Prof. Keith Howard
SOAS, University of London
Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H 0XG, UK
kh at soas.ac.uk; 0207 8984687; 07805 048801


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