The BBC apologised on Monday to a leading British university for sending two undercover reporters to accompany an academic trip to North Korea, after an internal investigation found that it had failed to inform students of the potential risks.
The publicly funded BBC joined the trip to North Korea for students and post-graduates of the London School of Economics (LSE) in March 2013.
Two undercover journalists – including the respected reporter John Sweeney – attached themselves to the group to gain access to the secretive state and film a documentary for Panorama, a current affairs programme.
The general secretary of the LSE’s student union accused the BBC at the time of using the students as “human shields”.
The university said the students had been told “a journalist” would accompany them, but it had not been made clear the BBC’s aim was to use the visit to secretly record footage for Panorama, a current affairs programme.
James Harding, the director of BBC news and current affairs, wrote to the chairman of the LSE, Peter Sutherland, saying that he accepted the corporation had fallen short. “On behalf of the BBC, I would like to apologise to you and the LSE,” he said.
The BBC’s Editorial Standards Committee said the broadcaster had not adequately informed the students about the BBC’s involvement so that they would be aware of any risks posed by the presence of the journalists.
“This was a serious failing, and the BBC is right to apologise to the complainants,” said Alison Hastings, Chair of the Editorial Standards Committee.
The LSE and the father of one of the students on the trip made a series of complaints to the BBC after news of its involvement in the trip surfaced last year.
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