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BBC in the dock over North Korea student ruse

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By John Glenday, Reporter

April 15, 2013 | 2 min read

The BBC is facing yet another controversy today over the planned broadcast of Panorama this evening, which features footage shot from inside North Korea by a film crew embedded within a student group.

Students, who were told journalists would be present, were nevertheless unaware that filming was taking place – an activity which could have put their lives at risk in the unpredictable rogue state.

The trip was organised by the London School of Economics which said that its charges were used as ‘human shields’ but the BBC denies this saying that sufficient information was provided in advance for participants to give ‘fully informed consent’.

Speaking to Radio 4’s The World This Weekend, BBC head of programming Ceri Thomas added: ‘This is an important piece of public interest journalism’, before stating that he believed the footage justified putting lives at risk.

The ruse saw veteran journalist John Sweeney and a cameraman tag along with the 10 person group on a visit to the hermit state, a move which university authorities say they were unaware of until last week.

Students on the trip were not told of their late additions until arriving in Beijing and some were unaware that if Sweeney had been caught, he and his group could have been locked up in solitary confinement in a North Korean jail.

One anonymous member of the group wrote to the LSE student newspaper to say: “Contrary to what the BBC spokesperson insists, I have never been informed of the risks that I faced being in North Korea with the one print journalist who I agreed to travel with.

"I was never told that I could be held in detention or that I risked not being able to return to the country.”

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