The BBC used a student group (from the LSE) as cover for secret filming in North Korea. The BBC said the film was strongly in the public interest (BBC News Website 15 April 2013 BBC insists Panorama North Korea programme will go on).
Our assessment was that, at most, the likelihood was deportation, but we explained to the students that the risks might go beyond that – might include arrest, detention and the possibility of not being allowed back into the country.
It may be in the public interest – but the decision surely is not a binary yes/no one. Public Interest cannot be a simple switch that justifies anything.
The potential consequences for the students (all over 18) seem to be to be pretty high for what looks (from the BBC trails) like merely a fishing expedition. It feels as if the BBC in doing its risk assessment is playing fast and loose with the safety of others. But it does go further than the safety of just the students on the trip. It is very hard to see how the students could give fully informed consent and making full disclosure seeking final consent once they got to Beijing does not facilitate that informed consent.
Sir Peter Sutherland, chairman of the LSE’s board of governors, said the programme created “unacceptable risks” for the school’s reputation and the students involved.
The BBC unscrupulously used a number of students as human cover for a filming operation without fully informing all of them what was happening, … If academics cannot go to any part of the world on the basis of trust in terms of what they say they are doing and what they are about, this undermines the integrity of the institution.
We are used to the tabloid press claiming phoney “public interest” defences for salacious stories that might be of interest to the public – and most can see through that sort of claim.
This is more insidious. If a public interest defence is to be made, the benefits of that public disclosure has to be significantly greater than the potential risks to others.
This programme is going to have to be dynamite to justify these risks. Will it be or will we see another devaluation of the Panorama and BBC brands?