THE BLOG

BBC Apology Only Emboldens Dictatorial Regimes

18/03/2014 08:48 GMT | Updated 17/05/2014 10:59 BST

I was one of the 10 participants on a trip to North Korea in March 2013, involving students of the London School of Economics (LSE) and undercover journalists of the BBC.

I had gone on the trip as an LSE alumnus. When I saw the BBC's apology, following an inquiry by the BBC Trust, I was baffled - it was an apology which I neither needed nor asked for.

Indeed, the complaints against the BBC were only brought by the LSE and the father of one of the trip participants.

That stirred a fracas about the journalistic ethics of the BBC. Five of the trip participants and I ran a statement last year, clarifying that we were informed of the risks of going on the trip with undercover journalists, and that we supported the BBC's programme.

But an issue about the safety of the students travelling with undercover journalists in North Korea morphed into a concern for institutional reputation - in this case, that of the LSE.

Moreover, two important points have been missed throughout the entire affair.

Firstly, the North Korean authorities granted visas to John Sweeney - the main BBC journalist on the trip - and the rest of us to enter their country.

Yet a simple Google search would pull up his biography that is prominently displayed on the BBC Panorama website. If the risks were real and serious, Sweeney would certainly not have made it through the North Korean visa screening process.

Secondly, the North Korean regime itself had never raised any issue on "North Korea Undercover", the BBC Panorama documentary in question.

Rather, it is the LSE and the father of one of the trip participants who raised their objections to the broadcast of the documentary, even calling for it to be dropped.

That leads us to a truly sobering thought. Reports of grave human rights abuses in North Korea are all too familiar.

The control of its media and on the basic flow of information within that country is shockingly Orwellian. Yet, grossly exaggerated complaints to the BBC had been made, almost as if in defence of the North Korean regime.

The apology that the BBC delivered today only emboldens the actions of regimes like North Korea's.