The LTTE has been accused of using women and children in its war against the Sri Lanka Government.
But to use them in peacetime and in a country where tensions are high, just for a Story?
A BBC crew has just done that in North Korea.
Investigative Journalism has its limits, Media Must realize.
The BBC risked the lives of students by using them as a ‘human shield’ for a controversial Panorama journalist and his film crew, it was claimed yesterday.
The undercover team travelled with ten students from the London School of Economics to North Korea last month. Had the journalists been discovered, the whole group would have faced arrest, interrogation and possible detention.
Parents and university officials claim the students – the youngest of whom was only 18 – were ‘deliberately misled’ by the BBC and have called on the broadcaster to apologise and drop the Panorama documentary, due to be aired tonight.
The students were invited on the trip via an LSE club, only to learn much later it had been organised by Panorama as a cover for its investigation.
Journalist John Sweeney insisted the students had all agreed to enter the rogue Communist state with him, but admitted he withheld some details of the trip on the advice of BBC risk assessors.
The LSE said its students were not given enough information to give their consent and accused the BBC of taking unacceptable risks at a time when sabre-rattling by North Korea had already raised tensions with the West.
Alex Peters-Day, general secretary of LSE Students’ Union said students and the university had been ‘manipulated’.
‘I think the trip was organised by the BBC as a ruse to get into North Korea and that’s disgraceful,’ she said. ‘They have used students essentially as a human shield in this situation.’
Three of the students have complained, the university says. One said they were not told about key details of the subterfuge until en route for Pyongyang.
Students have since received ‘threatening’ letters from North Korean authorities and one parent has complained in writing to new BBC director-general Lord Hall that their child was put in danger.
The parent wrote: ‘The methods adopted potentially endangered a number of students who believed they were participating in an organised student tour. I am outraged that in this case the BBC, without obtaining “informed consent”… deceived, used and endangered these students to obtain a story from North Korea.’
The row could prove embarrassing for Lord Hall, appointed after his predecessor George Entwistle quit in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal and the botched Newsnight report which led to Lord McAlpine being wrongly identified as a paedophile.
A producer for Panorama resigned earlier this month over claims the programme tried to bribe a security consultant to reveal information about a property developer.
The LSE said it was not given any warning about the BBC’s plans until last week, after the group returned. It said the deception had put the students in danger and had jeopardised the safety of its academics working in other high-risk countries.
The students volunteered for the trip through the Grimshaw Club, a student society linked to the LSE’s department of international relations. Sweeney’s wife Tomiko Newson, an LSE graduate, had organised a group tour of North Korea with the club in 2012 and students were told she was organising this year’s trip.
BBC says “It is justified”
A senior BBC executive said that it was worth risking students’ lives by sending an undercover reporter with them on a trip to North Korea for a controversial documentary.
Ceri Thomas, the corporation’s head of news planning, said the decision to go ahead with the airing of tonight’s programme went ‘right to the top’ as he rejected claims that students from the London School of Economics had been forced in to taking unacceptable risks during the investigation.
Yesterday it was claimed that the corporation used the students as a ‘human shield’ for a Panorama journalist and his film crew.