FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Deceiving North Korea

by BINOY KAMPMARK

The BBC has become whipping boy of the squeamish, the education establishment and parents.  Some of the battering of late has been deserved – an appallingly indifferent culture to the sexual wiles of the late Jimmy Savile was the most conspicuous example about how things went so wrong at the Beeb.  With a new leader at the helm, Lord Tony Hall, the Beeb has been sprucing up, though coverage of Baroness Thatcher’s death and funeral was never going to make the BBC-bashers happy.

Another controversy has been added to the assembly line of disgruntlement.  Education officials in Britain have taken issue with the way the Panorama program purportedly mislead 10 graduate students of the London School of Economics on a trip to North Korea.  The trip had been advertised by a Panorama producer “through the society mailing list”. The students, it is argued, were not privy to the undercover nature of the operation – that journalists were, in fact, making a documentary under the cover of an “education” mission.

Heady disagreement has been expressed over consent and what the students actually thought they were getting themselves into.  Legal eagles sharp on this always speak of fully informed disclosure about risks to the people concerned.  In the case of a journey to North Korea during the ongoing crisis, it would surely have been palpably obvious that some risk existed, irrespective of any dissimulation on the part of the Panorama producers.  Not so, claimed the LSE officials in an email to staff and students on Saturday.  “It is the LSE’s view that the students were not given enough information to enable informed consent, yet were given enough to put them in serious danger if the subterfuge had been uncovered prior to their departure from North Korea” (Guardian, 14 April).

The education officials (journalist accounts aptly call them “LSE managers”) feel that not enough was provided by way of information by journalist John Sweeney and his colleagues.  It was claimed that, initially, the students were told only one journalist would be travelling with them. A two-man film crew duly joined them, though apparently they were only told about this on a stopover in Beijing (The Telegraph, Apr 14).  Presto, and then they were three.

Alex Peters-Day of the LSE Students’ Union is outraged.  “I think the trip was organised by the BBC as a ruse to get into North Korea and that’s disgraceful.  They have used students essentially as a human shield.”  While Peters-Day has a point, it is worrying that the students she is describing are simulating permanent imbecility.  If that was the case, then we might has well ditch the idea of consent altogether.

Three students and one parent have lodged complaints about the BBC; a few have received “threatening” emails from Pyongyang, who has, in any case, been in the business of threatening everybody for sometime now.  LSE managers have been miffed that they were kept in not-so-blissful ignorance.  Some fear – like Professor George Gaskell – that the trip threatens LSE employees in “various other sensitive countries”.

Sweeney was certainly cheeky by describing himself as “Dr John Paul Sweeney, PhD history”, using an alumnus email account in pulling off the ruse.  In so doing, he managed to convince both the North Korean authorities and the students that he was “the professor”, though again we are simply not sure how much was revealed. Sweeney has also reminded his detractors that the LSE is as pure as driven slush, run by managers who are happy to receive cash donations from the Gaddafi family and grant PhD degrees in suspicious circumstances.  Do not forget the Saif al-Islam controversy, ribs Sweeeney.  Politics can be a rum business.

Despite student naiveté  actual or alleged, the BBC was shoddy on the paperwork.  Managers love that sort of thing, and formality has been treated as golden here – the lack of written consent for one, imperilling the BBC stance.  The BBC did conduct a “risk assessment” of the trip, whatever that entailed, but it has not been deemed sufficient by its noisy detractors.

Sweeney claims enough by way of details of this undercover sojourn was provided.  The students were warned twice that they might face arrest.  A Panorama spokesman claimed that, “We recognised that because it would increase the risks of the trip, the students should be told in advance that a journalist intended to travel with them, in order to enable to make their decision about whether they wanted to proceed.”  Importantly, the students were reminded of this in time to adjust their plans, should they have felt compromised.

The calls to pull the program by the likes of LSE chairman Peter Sutherland are misguided, ignoring the value of the content to the means it was obtained.  “Authentic information is at a premium and everyone is back, safe and sound,” surmises an editorial for The Independent (Apr 14).  Hall has similarly explained to Sutherland by letter that there was a broader public interest in screening the documentary on Monday.

The editors at The Independent do have another point to make.  Had Sweeney’s own cover – not to mention that of his wife and cameraman – been blown in North Korea, “the whole group could have been in danger.”  Were the students merely the unwitting guinea pigs in an operation conducted more for BBC glory than LSE pride?  Responsibility can be such an onerous thing, though it is one that should be shared.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered: a Fragment (Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre)
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail