LSE Get It Wrong on North Korea

by craig on April 21, 2013 9:31 pm in Uncategorized

On BBC World, I just watched John Sweeney’s excellent Panorama documentary on North Korea. The LSE have complained bitterly about the BBC using the cover of an LSE student trip to film inside North Korea.

The LSE is absolutely wrong here. What is the purpose of academic contact if it does not result in the revealing and dissemination of truth?

I am perhaps particularly sensitive on this point as , in my own field, the small western academic community dealing with Central Asia, with a tiny number of honourable exceptions, pull their punches and in their publications hide the truth about Central Asia’s appalling dictatorships, in order to maintain their “access”. But “access” has no purpose if not used to reveal truth, and what the learned professors really mean is they wish to maintain their own career and income.

If nobody from the LSE is ever allowed into the terrible North Korean dictatorship again, that will be a bad thing. But the benefit of the very wide spreading of truth by John Sweeney’s documentary is worth a very, very great deal more. The academics of the LSE may not entirely use their “access” to lick Kim Jong Whatever’s arse. But the said academics certainly don’t want to be associated with the spreading of the obvious truth that the said arse reeks to high heaven.

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  1. KingofWelshNoir

    21 Apr, 2013 - 10:06 pm

    I haven’t seen the documentary but certainly heard the debate about it last week. Surely the point here is that it was reckless of the Panorama team to endanger the lives of the students in this fashion? By having a journalist masquerading as a student they would, I assume, have violated the terms of whatever visa the student party had been travellling under. They could conceivably have been accused of spying, no? Given the madness of the regime in question this doesn’t strike me as that far-fetched, and the consequences could have been dire.

  2. Yes, quite right, all students should stay at home wrapped in duvets in case anything bad ever happens to them, and should never under any circumstances get involved in anything worthwhile that might involve any risk of any kind.

  3. Didn’t see the documentary (one of the 1% non-TVers) but the real nature of the NK regime comes from the accounts of defectors who’ve been torturers and executioners and their surviving victims. Enough to turn your stomach. Any of that in it? Pretty lame and pointless otherwise I would guess.

  4. KingofWelshNoir

    21 Apr, 2013 - 11:15 pm

    If a group of journalists want to visit an evil dictatorship like NK by masquerading as students, I would salute their courage. However, travelling with a bona fide group of students and passing themselves off as one is a different kettle of ethical fish. They exposed the students to the risk of life imprisonment or worse. And no doubt imperilled the safety of the North Korean travel guides who showed them round. They will, no doubt, be severely punished for this. And to what end? To tell us the NK regime is a barbaric tyranny that inflicts appalling suffering on its poor people? Wow, what a scoop! It’s the journalistic equivalent of shooting ducks in a barrel.

  5. “And to what end? To tell us the NK regime is a barbaric tyranny that inflicts appalling suffering on its poor people? Wow, what a scoop! It’s the journalistic equivalent of shooting ducks in a barrel.” — KingofWelshNoir

    I saw the programme, late at night, with signing for the deaf. I assumed it was a repeat. And the above was precisely my reaction. I don’t think I saw or heard one thing that I didn’t know already. In fact, I got bored with it and turned it off. I would not have done that if it was exposing anything.

    John Sweeney behaved like he thought he was some sort of ‘covert operative’ and was full of his own importance. Like a little boy playing at being a spy.

    What a shame the BBC don’t put the same effort into actually investigating the murkier behaviour of “the West”.

  6. It didn’t reveal anything that North Korea watchers don’t know already, but it may have brought it to a wider audience, being primetime BBC1.

    Some critics have rightly pointed out, though, that it was a rebranding of North Korea by the BBC. They found a commentator who said that the regime was “far right” and the admiration of the Great Leader(s) for Hitler was emphasised (as if dicators of all political persuasions don’t study each other techniques).

    The beeb simply can’t help themselves anymore.

  7. It’s not John Sweeney’s nor the BBC’s role to throw students into the deep end of International Relations without giving them a choice.

    It’s this choice, or lack of it, which was at issue and what the major kerfuffle was about.

    Students complained about not having been informed about what Sweeney, his missus and the BBC were up to.

    Sweeney and the wife get paid handsomely for this risk, and enhance their reputations with Western gangsters. The students take a risk with much potential downside and little by way of upside to compensate.

  8. If you didn’t know already, this ust shows how off their trolley the BBC is:

    “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.””

    Note that the very same BBC won’t be risking their lives by taking on any Western gangsters in the public interest.


  9. Well said (both of them) Herbie.

  10. Craig, thank you for that excellent post and your excellent response to KingofWelshNoir.

    Regarding most of the comments made so far, the truth is that those posters are pissed off that North Korea got some more bad publicity. And this is because those posters hate the West so much that the will always support any state or regime they think is an enemy of the West; in reality they don’t give a monkey’s about the safety of the LSE students.

    Dreoilin gives the game away by saying “What a shame the BBC don’t put the same effort into actually investigating the murkier behaviour of “the West”.”.

  11. Here, I have to agree with the majority of forespeakers. The students were not travelling to North Korea in order to “get involved in anything worthwile” which, in Craig’s view, seems mean spying or denouncing a foreign country. If the guy was so brave, why didn’t he go openly as a journalist? Or disguise himself as as a sportsman or musician, thousands of whom visit North Korea every year? No, he was only brave enough to use students on a bona fide study trip – use them like disposable cutlery – only in order to promote himself. Sorry, this did not help to ease the situation of North Koreans in the slightest way. But surely helped Sweeney’s pockets.

  12. @Habbabkuk, you are such a splendid psychologist, you should be getting Nobel Prizes for your analyses. Thank you, man, I wouldn’t know how everyone here is feeling if not your revelations.

  13. Habbakuk

    The BBC aren’t interested in the wellbeing of North Koreans, no more indeed than they’re interested in the wellbeing of the marginalised in UK, Iraq, Iran or anywhere else.

    Their only interest here is to tell stories that please their masters, and their masters’ interests are really rather feudal.

  14. Dreoilin gives the game away by saying “What a shame the BBC don’t put the same effort into actually investigating the murkier behaviour of “the West”.”.

    Ach, who cares what someone very dull tinks? But thanks for the opportunity to disagree, all the same.

  15. Sorry, Habbakuk, that was rude. I must say, I agree with both KingOWN and Dreoilin.

  16. North Korea? A derogatory reference to DPRK (Democratic Republic of Korea) that evidently could be a source of confusion for the hamburger munching addled brain demography of the BBC viewers. For fear of mistaking the fascist regime of south Korea as a none democratic republic. Fact that the miracle of the Korean economy has been made possible by the use of slave labour in the southern Korea is a point that none of the imperialist bastards would like to even hint at.

    Further, fact that DPRK was subject to the destructive war and crimes there of Gods own right hand man the total bastard Douglas MacArthur, the mad son of a bitch who was about to nuke Moscow and Beijing to rid the world from the “evils” of communism.

    Further, considering that DPRK was subject to the worst excesses of the US militarists along with the usual war crimes that go unreported and do not merit any kind of investigations. In addition to the constant harassments of a nation that has not bowed to the aspiration of the fascist posing as the world liberators, and Judge, Jury, Police, Cook, Dishwasher.

    Therefore it would have served the interests of the rabid right wing bastards well, if the Beeb had commissioned a Fred Flintstone cartoon in which Fred was rubbishing the poopy pants in the NK and the terrible pink lolo commie bastards there in that “benighted” land, to stop the UK plebs from even daring to think of a different form of governance than the ultra right wing bunch of shits that have steadily managed to turn the population into some kind of slave work force.

    Yeah those darn NK dictators and the usual hogwash about any system that does not exploit the population and engages in human battery farming,ought to be exposed, by the amateur spies posing as students, in a fashion after the famous five preferably with inclusion of lashings of ginger beer to boot.

  17. (since we seem to be in real time) – What?

  18. To go back to journalistic ethics, no, of course, it’s not ethical to masquerade as a part of a group of students.

  19. Sorry Craig but i think you’re missing the point.

    If student “patsies” are to be used by the espiocrats then they should know the stakes and the fact they might well be imprisoned,or worse,beyond their ken.

    Such proxyism aint right Craig-unless they all signed up knowing the potential consequences-which i doubt very much.

    Anything else smacks of patsiedom.

  20. “(since we seem to be in real time) – What?”


    “November” sounds like our old friend “Passerby”

    ‘night all

  21. technicolour

    22 Apr, 2013 - 1:13 am

    …unless it was in a v good cause

  22. @ All – off topic…

    When was he shot?

    So without conjecture.

    A. There are two(2) brothers – and these have been the focal point of attention as the mass media has been reminding us ever since the Boston bombing.
    B. We remove one brother from the equation (i.e. since he is arrested – in custody – no longer a threat). So – we now go to:-

    C. That leaves one (1) brother we know to have been shot ( under what circumstances we have yet to ascertain – but he is shot and now in critical condition). So, we can all reason that what we saw on the video footage was footage of the one that was killed – not the one shot and left in critical condition.

    Surely, if a man is already in custody and alive – then when was he shot?

    Simple question.

  23. What does the BBC do next? It certainly won’t be any of the Central Asian dictatorships whose friendship is so vital to the US and which serve as launching pads for guerrillas destabilising powers such as Russia and China.
    As to the middle east outside of Syria there is nothing to see there, just happy monarchs protecting their peoples from anti-zionist temptations, development and nationalism. Them and the Muslim Brotherhood, of course.
    So that leaves Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia for the BBC to pummel. Plus Russia and China, of course.
    Louis Proyect reviewed some very interesting Korean films at Counterpunch last Friday. I suspect every one of them is worth Panorama’s entire annual output.
    It is high time that the “west” withdrew its troops from Korea, stopped sponsoring fascist warmongers, descendants from collaborators with Imperial Japan, and left the ancient nation to do what most of its people want, namely to re-unite and live in peace.
    Those who are beginning to tire of listening to endless rehearsals of the crude Cold War drivelling about Korea, even when stylishly recycled through the, once reputable, BBC will enjoy reading Bruce Cuming’s The Korean War. Inter alia it reminds us of the achievements of two journalists who refused to lie and sacrificed their careers by telling the truth about Korea: Wilfred Burchett and Allan Winnington.

  24. BrianFujisan

    22 Apr, 2013 - 3:16 am

    Coutney…it’s unraveling big time

    Not sure i agree with Craig on this one….seems imperialist intent behind it all…i have posted this link on here before

    OT just back from being backup man to my son, ran The West Highland Way in uner 28 hours, for Yorkhill childrens hospital..

  25. Jives – I quite like ‘Espiocrats’ and may purloin the term for the future.

    As ever, I’m in two minds. Seemingly, not all the students agreed, so you can see the LSE’s point. On the other hand, it’s not clear they were in any extra danger. I mean, one imagines that the NK spooks already assume that these visits have at least one informer, or asset. And one imagines they are often correct.

    On balance, the story probably still worth doing, but I’m not quite so hard on the LSE. They do have a duty of care to their students, after all.

  26. Craig.
    I think you brilliantly manage to miss the point.
    Nobody is saying there anything wrong with academic trips which IMO should take n difficult issues and tell the truth as to what they find, but this case involves subterfuge and spying.

    I feel you are letting your friendship with JOHN SWEENY cloud your judgement. Why didn’t JOHN SWEENY or some other BBC spy do this reporting at a time less likely to have exaggerated consequences? Lets have JOHN SWEENY go undercover into the USSA and see what he finds there, or even a bit closer to home.

    Re: Your reply to KingOfWelshNoir. Don’t you acknowledge being put in danger voluntarily is completely different from being put in danger against your will. Seriously, you reply there reminded me of a “lord” Kitchener poster.

  27. “Or [JOHN SWEENY] disguise himself as as a sportsman ” – Hahahahahhaa. Class!
    The UK’s #1 crap-sandwich eater. Yes, perhaps.

  28. “By deception we make wars” – There is of course a very dangerous writer on this blog.

  29. This is another BBC affair were an organisation far too big for its boots and infiltrated by the MI’s, an organisation that is hard pressed and failing to shine a light on investigating its own collaborative efforts in support of paedophiles for decades, could not possibly feel for the H&S of students.

    Which parent in their right name still trusts these back room cowboys to not have a secondary agenda?

    The word lucky springs to mind. If they would have got arrested and put into prison for month on end we would be chomping at the bits here.

    Dont’ agree, the BBC has once again run away with its own perception of grandeur, under the impression that all is well and good with our acceptance of their machinations.

  30. So what exactly is N. Korea supposed to have done to us?

    Locking people up without trial and torturing them is an internal matter and anyhow we do that as well.

    What have they done to us? What is everybody so scared of?

  31. With solid ambassador level exerience, Craig Murray is probably as good as we’re likely to get in dissenting British geo-political punditry that has any prospect of being listened to by the public at large. That observation coupled with the content of this post is a good example of just why I dispair of said public ever coming close to the truth of this country’s real geo-political agenda and its post WWII criminality. Regardless of it’s narrowly defined accuracy, it serves the purposes of the UK Establishment very well indeed.

    OK – a narrow point is being made about obtaining information from inside a closed (to an implacably hostile outside world) society. On its face that is reasonable enough but… both Craig and the Panorama program he found so praisworthy, either totally ignore (Craig) or grossly distort (Panorama) the historical context of the situation.

    No mention of US behaviour or objectives in the 1950’s Korean war, or the holocaust which killed over 20% of the entire population (the UK lost under 1% in the whole of WWII). US General Curtis LeMay: “we burned down every North Korean town … over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — twenty percent of the population”. It’s where ‘bomb then back to the stone age’ originated. IOW the Korean population both North and South (as distinct from their uber-corrupt establishment leaderships) have good reason to regard the US as having an agenda that has little to do with their wellbeing.

    Craig knows – beyond the shadow of a doubt – that absent US guarantees and massive military support, South Korea would cease to exist almost immediately. Maybe that would be messy, but frankly its none of our damn business anyway. At least a united Korean peninsular would be able to work out its own destiny free from the incessantly murderous ‘humanitarian’ interferance of the West.

  32. Unusually, I disagree with you Craig.

    The point is (as has been rehearsed above by others) that the students on an academic trip should have been free to go to NK on their own terms. Perhaps some of them would have returned and in their academic articles shone light on NK.

    However, allowing the BBC to put these academics at considerable risk, is not acceptable nor fair on the academics.

    The BBC could very easily have asked LSE (and all those going) for permission. It’s not at all right to take risks with other people’s safety in this way.

  33. So what would have happened if the party of students had been arrested for spying? Wouldn’t the BBC have been right in there, shouting for military action against North Korea to save the party of “innocent” students? This plan was very convenient for the BBC and the establishment. It went well, so the BBC got a good documentary, but had it gone badly, a useful propaganda incident would have been created.

    “Both the British and the Iranian governments are milking this for maximum propaganda value and playing to their respective galleries. Neither has any real care at all for either the British captives or the thousands who could die in Iran and Basra if this gets out of hand.”

  34. What affect will this have on future cultural visits? Not just to N.Korea but to other non westernised countries?

    Now we have shown ourselves to be dishonest and admit to using cultural visits to enable our state broadcasting company to make propaganda programs. What are the chances future visits being allowed?

    When the people of the world should be moving closer together to combat the despots on both sides we move them further apart.

  35. So gents, not the LSE students who actually went on the trip (and not the SU activists back home) have heavily criticised the LSE for making the row public – I take it you’ll criticise the LSE now? No, though not. Meanwhile, any takers for Gadaffi’s money…?

  36. This House believes that “The permanent incarceration of a bunch of trainee economists in N. Korea would not have been an unmitigated disaster”. Could have done wonders for the FTSE100…

  37. Michael Stephenson

    22 Apr, 2013 - 3:44 pm

    The documentary was John Sweeney’s typical self aggrandizing garbage.

    Hundreds of UK journalists have went on that tour guided trip.

    Where is the value in the documentary, what on Earth can we British do for the plight of the North Koreans, except increase sanctions to increase the misery?

    Sweeney mentioned not once in that documentary that focussed heavily on the starvation of the North Koreans, but never once mentioned that a major factor in their starvation was US sanctions, intended to make the North Korean regime appear to be a bigger failure than it really is, and to prevent it from providing an example to others.

    Or that the flashy South Korea he presented probably would be just another East Asian wage slave puppet state for the West had the west not wanted to use it as a carrot on a stick for the rest of the region.

    Paraphrasing Chomsky: There’s no value in focussing on the crimes of others, when there is nothing you can do about it. It’s you duty to focus on the crimes of your own state, because their is something you can do about it.

    John Sweeney could learn a thing from Chomsky.

    Interestingly this North Korean propaganda documentary about the west is a much better documentary and much more entertaining, and contains a lot of truth in it.

  38. The worst famine in North Korea happened in the 1990’s before the UN sanctions (unanamous decision by the security council) were imposed. North Korea is an oppressive dictatorship which has made numerous threats to its neighbours but of course the US must be shown as being the root of all evil.

    I saw Sweeney’s documentary and wondered why they bothered. It didn’t tell us anything new struck me as a complete waste of resources.

  39. I disagree completely. You seem to be saying that because you don’t like the NK government, or because you don’t know much about NK, then anyone who goes to their country is entitled to break their law, lie on visa applications and abuse their hospitality. How would you feel if, say, you invited someone to your house to talk about publishing your book, and they asked to go to the loo, and snuck off into your bedroom and started going through your wife’s underwear drawer?

  40. But “access” has no purpose if not used to reveal truth,
    Access can also be used for cultural exchanges, for developing mutual understanding, for building confidence. It doesn’t have to be used only for spying.

  41. My suspicion is that the LSE is making a fuss about this so as to ensure its students have a chance to go on such trips in future.

    I am sure there are some LSE bods who have genuine annoyance about this, but that surely can’t be a universal view. I mean, is it really that big a deal that John Sweeney was treated to the same Potemkin experience in North Korea? Of course not. But the LSE does not want to have its next trip to a crazy state thwarted because the hosts suspect they are colluding with journalists.

  42. “November” sounds like our old friend “Passerby”

    Still playing the games of sounds like , what kind of contribution is this sort of crap?

    “Souds like this and that”, seems to be the main preoccupation of the OCD Afflicted contributor.

  43. Passerby
    23 Apr, 2013 – 4:48 pm

    So you ARE around. I thought so. 😉

  44. So you ARE around. …..

    Yes I am around. In fact we are legion, and not all that easy to get rid of. Nonetheless the game of “sounds like …” does sound more childish than ever, the comfort to be driven from discounting the various contributor as “one” is only a denial of reality, that does not change the actualities.

  45. …the ‘actualities’ being that I, for one, find both (or all) of you equally hard to follow. Is that why you’re rather rudely objecting to a simple comparison, I wonder?

  46. …the ‘actualities’ being that I, for one, find both (or all) of you equally hard to follow. Is that why you’re rather rudely objecting to a simple comparison, I wonder?

    There should be a warning label on this thread denoting: tag team at work.

    If you don’t follow the points raised, that is your tough luck, and not the problem of others included the contributors. Further your oh so fine sensibilities offended by the “rudeness”: patently points to the cloistered and pampered world that is occupied by the members of the tag team, or could it be the intransigence of the mind set that cannot tolerate any lines of thought, on the proscribed list of thoughts, as set by the hive.

    Comparisons that are constantly the way of interjections to derail the debate, and or cast doubts and question the validity of the existence of contributors with a view to discount the impact of the contributions ought not be misconstrued as anything other than the ill intent of those engaged in constantly invoking differing ghosts of the contributors as one another.

  47. technicolour

    24 Apr, 2013 - 3:12 pm

    Ah, Passerby, how I’ve missed you. Thank you for such a balanced and thoughtful reply. Rudeness is indeed in the eye of the beholder: I now realise that you were being nothing but charming and well-meaning and that the mention of OCD was actually intended as a compliment – as indeed I expect Dreoilin’s comparison was too. So harmony is restored all round!

  48. technicolour

    24 Apr, 2013 - 3:14 pm

    PS still, you’re quite right, it was none of my business!

  49. I will declare my interest: I am a graduate of the LSE.

    As much as I admire Craig, I have to disagree with him on this one. Not that students shouldn’t take risks from time to time. They should. But it should be the student’s decision, not the BBC’s. The BBC behaved irresponsibly.

  50. “the comfort to be driven from discounting the various contributor as “one” is only a denial of reality, that does not change the actualities.”

    Passerby, you’re funny. When you say, “the comfort to be driven”, do you by any chance mean “derived”?
    And when you say, “discounting the various contributor [sic] as “one” is only …”, was that a Freudian slip by any chance?

    Never mind. CheebaCow has provided us with a ‘blocking’ tool and I’m using it. Increasingly.

  51. The spelling and grammar inspector is out, demonstration of yet another facet of OCD. Evidently this thread now has turned into some kind of a legal, pedantic discourse in which each word is to be analysed and who knows we may even end up with the meaning of “is” to be defined yet.

    The sum contribution of the OCD afflicted contributor so far has been the inane game of “so and so sounds like so and so”, followed by spelling and grammar check, peppered with some pink panther psychology 101 , that culminates in threats and götterdämmerung (threats to block).

    “North Korea” yet again getting vilified through amateur spying methods of BBC, in continuation of fifty years of vilification is a side point, that is not the subject of the debate.

    Well I declare, I sound awfully like Passerby, but I am Passerby! That is besides the point and a Freudian banana custard! Pitiful, just pitiful, to witness these extreme levels of conformity and suppression.

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