Two of Britain’s most cherished institutions were on Sunday embroiled in a row after the London School of Economics (LSE) accused the BBC of using its students as “a human shield” for an undercover documentary on North Korea and putting their lives at risk.
Demanding that the programme, to be telecast at primetime on Monday, should be dropped, the LSE said the BBC had abused media ethics by “lying” to the students about the nature of the trip they were invited to join.
“There were lies and deception from the outset, putting the students at risk and creates a serious future problem for those who go to do future research or student travel,” the director of the LSE, Professor Craig Calhoun, told Sky News.
LSE students’ union general secretary, Alex Peters-Day, alleged that the students were “lied to”.
“I think the trip was organised by the BBC as potentially a ruse for them to get into North Korea and that’s disgraceful. They’ve used students essentially as a human shield in this situation,” she said.
The BBC admitted that a three-member crew, pretending to be part of an LSE student team, spent eight days in North Korea and secretly filmed for its Panorama programme but claimed that the students knew there would be a journalist on the trip. It said it planned to go ahead with the telecast as scheduled.
“There were 10 students. We told them there would be a journalist on the trip and, if that journalist was discovered, it could mean detention and that it could mean arrest,” said Ceri Thomas, Head of BBC’s news programmes.
In a separate statement, the BBC said the students were given enough information to enable them “to make their decision about whether they wanted to proceed”.
“The students were all explicitly warned about the potential risks of travelling to North Korea with the journalist as part of their group. This included a warning about the risk of arrest and detention and that they might not be allowed to return to North Korea in the future,” it said.