[KS] BBC journalists pose as LSE university students inNorthKorea

Jim Hoare jim at jhoare10.fsnet.co.uk
Tue Apr 16 07:56:09 EDT 2013

E-mails does not sound likely. Somebody's idea of a joke.

Before I start another hare, Don Kirk has pointed out that I seem to think
that it possible for journalists yo get visas fro North Korea just by
asking. I am sorry if I gave that impression. Of course it is not easy and
many are refused. But it is not impossible and many do go. What annoyed the
North Koreans was those who went and then reported on things that they had
not seen. The late Brian Baron of the BBC had been many times and had done
some pretty critical reporting but when he came in 2001 - and they made a
great effort to get him there - the story as carried included a whole lot of
archive footage about conditions that he had not taken, though he talked as
though he had, and they never invited him again.

My real point was that it a clandestine visit such as Mr Sweeney made will
not give any more 'real; insights than those available to ordinary tourists
- if the Korean Studies List will allow it, see the attached picture from
2011 - most people who have been to Panmunjom from the North will have
something similar.

Mr Kirk is probably right that any danger was exaggerated. But I would still
contend that there is always some potential for danger. In 2001, my wife and
I and other diplomats went with a WHO/UNESCO inoculation team to Haeju to
carry out part of a joint venture program with the DPRK government. After
lunch, instead of staying in the hotel as instructed, some of us went for a
walk around the central square and up an alley. The Koreans accompanying us
panicked and sent our cars to collect us. We then stood around for about 90
minutes while phone calls were made to Pyongyang and we were warned that the
whole program might be put off and that there might be serious
repercussions. The word from Pyongyang must have been favorable because we
were eventually allowed to carry on. In recent years, a colleague has been
held several times for taking photographs - something that never happened
when I was there. North Korea can be a frightening place, especially if you
have been fed a diet of two-way mirrors in bedrooms, listening devices
everywhere (North Koreans believe the latter, if not the former) etc. Given
also the unwillingness of the Tourist Organisation to allow contact with
embassies - in 2011 when I went as a tour leader we only got to the British
embassy when the MFA intervened - one can seem very isolated and vulnerable
even if behaving in a normal way. 

Not a place to pretend you are in a spy novel!

Jim Hoare






From: Koreanstudies [mailto:koreanstudies-bounces at koreaweb.ws] On Behalf Of
Sent: 16 April 2013 10:10
To: don kirk
Cc: Jim Hoare; DavidMcCann; Korean Studies Discussion List; Ruediger Frank
Subject: Re: [KS] BBC journalists pose as LSE university students


Thank you for everybody who has responded to this thread. It has been a very
useful discussion, and informed my discussions with a number of journalists
yesterday. While the story will no doubt disappear in the next few days, The
Independent has a further twist in its edition this morning (alas, I think
it is behind a firewall, so I have not been able to find it on the web),
under the title 'North Korea issues threats to students as BBC airs
controversial documentary':


'An email sent to the students by a North Korean tourism official on their
return stated: "I warn you that I will make public to the world. the lies
made in the name of LSE students. I reserve the right to make public and
publish all personal data, including all your passports, to demonstrate that
while we have been direct and honest with you, you have broken the DPRK


The documentary, as many suspected it would be, was primarily tourist videos
and library materials. Sweeney stood out from the students in a way that, as
many of you expected, would surely mean that the North Koreans did know
exactly who he was.


Keith Howard

Professor of Music, SOAS, University of London. kh at soas.ac.uk

(+44)207 8984687 (O); (+44)7805 048801 (M)



On 16 Apr 2013, at 01:36, don kirk <kirkdon at yahoo.com> wrote:

Thanks -- Your experience was no doubt revealing. My own trips have ranged
from four nights to two weeks, that's it. (Was there for 12 days last
summer.) You have no doubt had many varied encounters. I was referring only
to interaction with guide-minders on brief trips. They never said anything
to me that was revealing beyond the authorized briefings they gave when
looking at stuff, on the bus etc. Humanitarian workers, ranging over broad
areas, would have different impressions and experiences. You err in thinking
I or others would have no regard for the fates of guides and their families.
In my experience there was never any instance in which such issues arose.
Guides were always quite pleasant -- except when warning that anyone who
veered outside the group would be told to leave the country. (They never
came close to carrying out the threat.) I never heard of anyone "extracting
a confession from guides." Nor do I know of anyone "with article written no
matter what they see." My own articles from last summer are accessible
through links on the "hermit kingdom" page of my website,
www.donaldkirk.com. A problem in writing them was there wasn't a lot to go
on, but I did my best with what I had. Another listee, Mr. Hoare, seems to
think it's possible to get a journalist's visa any time. These are difficult
and in most cases impossible to get. The AP in Pyongyang  has been
noteworthy for writing soft non-critical stories. (Check out recent articles
by Ethan Epstein, The Weekly Standard, and a piece I did for 38North:

Don Kirk

--- On Mon, 4/15/13, Frederic OJARDIAS <fojardias at hotmail.com> wrote:

From: Frederic OJARDIAS <fojardias at hotmail.com>
Subject: Re: [KS] BBC journalists pose as LSE university students in
To: "Korean Studies Discussion List" <koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>, "Ruediger
Frank" <ruediger.frank at univie.ac.at>
Cc: "Jim Hoare" <jim at JHOARE10.FSNET.CO.UK>, BAKS at JISCMAIL.AC.UK, "Keith
Howard" <kh at soas.ac.uk>, "DavidMcCann" <dmccann at fas.harvard.edu>
Date: Monday, April 15, 2013, 10:24 AM


Dear Don,


This is funny how you can show at the same time so much interest for human
rights in DPRK, and so little regard for the fate of these North Korean
guides and their families.


You take great pride and legitimacy in your numerous short trips to DPRK.
But I can tell you one thing : I lived approximately a year in North Korea
(working for different humanitarian organizations, in Pyongyang and in the
countryside) and I know how dangerous life can be for all the staff
(drivers, guides, translators, etc) who deal daily with us, foreigners. Some


"No shred of evidence", you say ? Ask humanitarian workers. They will not
agree with you. I saw real fear in the eyes of some of our DPRK counterparts
when something went wrong. Working with us is dangerous.


Brave journalists who go to DPRK one week (with their article already
written no matter what they will see), have fun, extract confessions from
their guides, escape their minders, take footage and put at risks the life
of the people they filmed (and their families) are not much worth the regime
they feel so superior to.



Frederic Ojardias


Radio France Internationale

Seoul correspondant




From: don kirk 

Sent: Monday, April 15, 2013 8:34 PM

To: Korean Studies Discussion List ; Ruediger Frank 

Cc: Jim Hoare ; BAKS at JISCMAIL.AC.UK ; DavidMcCann ; Keith Howard 

Subject: Re: [KS] BBC journalists pose as LSE university students in


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>

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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