Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Brave BBC journalists risking lives - but not, of course, their own - to get stories

The BBC is making the news in another way just now as well, because of a Panorama programme it intends to air tomorrow night. The BBC's team posed as LSE (London School of Economics) students on a student society visit to North Korea, but never bothered to tell the LSE about it. Now both the students involved and the LSE itself want the programme pulled because of the danger it could pose to future student visits, to academic co-operation, and to any kind of genuine investigative work on North Korean society and politics.

I've had concerns in the past about deeply biased reporting in Panorama programmes on Palestine, Cuba and other places, but my concern here isn't whether they're being fair and honest in their reporting, but whether the BBC's lack of professional ethics is putting lives at risk. We have seen how the use of a fake vaccination programme in Pakistan by the CIA as cover for spying has led to deep mistrust of genuine healthcare programmes. Quite apart from the consequences for the spread of polio of people's not being vaccinated, real health volunteers are now at risk of attack on suspicion of being spies and stooges. It is easy to see how the BBC's infiltration of a student visit could play out in future: we could see students routinely being hauled in for interrogation, or worse.

Of course, the London School of Economics has always had a reputation as a hotbed of left-wing activism, so perhaps the BBC considers that the possible death or torture of a few leftists in the future is an acceptable trade-off in the ratings battle for a programme going up against Coronation Street.

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