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BBC in row over journalist’s undercover visit to North Korea

Published: Updated:

The BBC is embroiled in a row with the London School of Economics after one of its reporters allegedly posed as a student in order to film undercover in North Korea.

The broadcaster has refused the university's demand that it withdraw the programme "North Korea Undercover", an episode of its flagship investigative TV show Panorama due to air on Monday, a spokeswoman for the British Broadcasting Corporation told AFP.

In an email to staff and students late Saturday, the LSE said Panorama reporter John Sweeney was granted access to North Korea last month as part of a university trip to the secretive country, posing as a history PhD student.

The prestigious university said the subterfuge could have put students on the trip in "serious danger" had North Korean authorities discovered that Sweeney was actually a journalist.

The BBC, the world's largest broadcaster, denies that it put LSE students in danger. It did not immediately confirm that Sweeney had posed as a PhD student.

The LSE admitted that students on the trip -- which was arranged by one of the university's international relations clubs -- were told a journalist would be accompanying them, but insists they were "not given enough information to enable informed consent".

The broadcaster did not inform university officials of the plans, it stressed.

"The BBC's actions may do serious damage to LSE's reputation for academic integrity and may have seriously compromised the future ability of LSE students and staff to undertake legitimate study of North Korea, and very possibly of other countries where suspicion of independent academic work runs high," it added.

A spokeswoman for Panorama insisted that students were made fully aware of the risks of travelling to North Korea with an undercover journalist.

"This included a warning about the risk of arrest and detention and that they might not be allowed to return to North Korea in the future," she said.

LSE director Craig Calhoun accused the BBC of "lies and deception from the outset".

“The school was not informed at all in any way about this," he told Sky News television.

"I would like the BBC to pull the program so that it is not showing footage of our students and creating dangers."

Panorama's website says Sweeney spent eight days undercover in the "most rigidly-controlled nation on Earth", witnessing "a landscape bleak beyond words, a people brainwashed for three generations and a regime happy to give the impression of marching towards Armageddon".

Sweeney said on Twitter that he disputed the LSE's statement on the row.