LSE Get It Wrong on North Korea 53

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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53 thoughts on “LSE Get It Wrong on North Korea

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  • KingofWelshNoir

    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.

  • craig Post author

    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.

  • Je

    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.

  • KingofWelshNoir

    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.

  • Dreoilin

    “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”.

  • Techno

    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.

  • Herbie

    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.

  • Herbie

    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.


  • Habbabkuk

    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”.”.

  • kashmiri

    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.

  • kashmiri

    @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.

  • Herbie


    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.

  • technicolour

    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.

  • technicolour

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

  • November

    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.

  • technicolour

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

  • Jives

    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.

  • Dreoilin

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


    “November” sounds like our old friend “Passerby”

    ‘night all

  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ 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.

  • Chris2

    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.

  • BrianFujisan

    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..

  • Brendan

    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.

  • lwtc247

    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.

  • lwtc247

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

  • nevermind

    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.

  • Fred

    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?

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