London: Striking a defiant tone, the BBC has defended its decision to send an undercover team with a group of London School of Economics students on a trip to secretive North Korea, saying that it was worth risking their lives. The BBC has faced calls to pull Panorama special by John Sweeney who smuggled himself into North Korea alongside his wife and a cameraman by attaching them to a group of 10 London School of Economics (LSE) students who visited the country in March.
Defending the decision, BBC News Head of Programmes Ceri Thomas said, "This is an important piece of public interest journalism." Asked whether that justified putting student lives at risk, he replied, "We think it does."
Had the journalists' identity been discovered by the North Korean authorities, the entire group could have been arrested and faced punishment. The BBC insists the students were fully aware that the reporting team were present but the LSE has reacted furiously, accusing the corporation of using "deception from the outset" and endangering the safety of their students, the Independent reported.
The incident has pitted one of Britain's most prestigious universities and the BBC into an argument over journalistic ethics. Reporters often pose as tourists to enter North Korea and take part in state-sanctioned trips where access is severely monitored by officials.
But the LSE has been incensed that Sweeney, his wife and former LSE student Tomiko and cameraman Alexander Niakaris used their university's reputation to access the secretive state. The trip itself took place between March 23 and 30 and involved sanctioned visits to the capital Pyongyang and Panmunjom, a border post inside the demilitarised zone between the North and South.
An initial statement from the LSE said the visit was arranged by the Grimshaw Club, a student body that specialises on international politics and who put on a similar trip last year to North Korea. However, the club today denied any official involvement saying it simply advertised the trip.