BBC's 'Serious Failing' Over LSE Students In North Korea

A BBC Panorama programme which sent an undercover team into North Korea as part of a group of LSE students made a "serious failing" and breached a number of editorial guidelines, the BBC Trust has ruled.

The Trust said the BBC failed to ensure the students were aware of the risks involved in the trip in order to give their consent.

And it concluded there had been "unfair treatment" of the LSE by being linked to the BBC's investigation.

The BBC's John Sweeney poses with a North Korean soldier

For the programme, North Korea Undercover, reporter John Sweeney spent eight days in the country, joining an organised tour and pretending to be part of the student group.

The trip had actually being organised by Sweeney's wife Tomiko Newson.

When the film came to light it was condemned by senior officials from the LSE who asked for the programme to be pulled, but it was screened as planned in April 2013 which led to a complaint from the father of one of the students in the group.

The father of the student, who has not been named, said after the ruling on Monday that the BBC "had so obviously risked the lives of these students in an ill-conceived scheme of questionable journalistic value."

The report showed the BBC had "no exit plan for the students" and that "senior BBC executives approved a strategy for the BBC team, if detained, to abandon the students and, in the words of the Trust, leave them 'in effect, as a group of young adults from a variety of different countries, all personally responsible for trying to extricate themselves from possible detention,'" the father said.

The BBC Trust's report said that Newson and the rest of the BBC team strategy, according to the risk assessment form, "separate themselves from the group in the event that the journalists were detected (in order to draw official attention away from the students), and that there could not be a pre-arranged exit strategy to get the students or the Panorama team out of the country in the event that they were detained."

“My daughter was likewise deeply troubled by the impact this secretly filmed programme may have had on the North Korean guides and their families. Each were decent ordinary people trying to conduct their lives under Kim Jong-Un’s repressive regime," he continued.

“It is now clear that the BBC failed the students, who were unwitting human fodder used to fulfil John Sweeney and his wife’s personal ambition to film inside North Korea. We are all extremely fortunate that everyone returned safely.

“Absurdly the footage from North Korea used in the broadcast added next to nothing to the public’s understanding of the situation inside North Korea, given the tourist access was so tightly stage-managed by the regime."

He added that he was "pleased that the BBC has today, at last, issued an apology to my daughter and me."

Although the Trust believed there was a "strong public interest" in the broadcast, it said the BBC "failed to consider a number of important issues and risks, and failed to deal with them appropriately".