Panorama put LSE 'bystanders' at risk

May 2, 2013

Tim Luckhurst is incorrect to claim that the London School of Economics’ stance on the BBC Panorama programme “North Korea Undercover” was based on a “reverence for bureaucracy” or “wounded pride” (“NK confidential: BBC correctly balanced consent and complicity”, Opinion, 25 April). It is the BBC, rather than the LSE, that lost perspective.

As scholars based at the LSE, we have conducted years of fieldwork in dangerous parts of the world, including war zones. Finding ways to do this kind of research is challenging and sometimes it is necessary to take risks. However, there is a line that should not be crossed. Taking risks in relation to our own lives is one thing: knowingly jeopardising the lives and liberty of others is another.

While we have great admiration for bold investigative journalism, we find the BBC’s willingness to put what it calls “bystanders” in harm’s way quite extraordinary. Luckhurst does not seem to agree. We do not know any other academic researcher who would take such a cavalier attitude, and we have found it depressing listening to senior BBC management justifying the actions of John Sweeney and his team.

Posing as an LSE academic and using students as cover in the way that the Panorama journalists did was unjustifiable. It is not sufficient to claim that students were told what they needed to know, or even that some of them may have found it thrilling to be harbouring journalists out for a scoop. At the LSE, enthusiastic students must submit their fieldwork plans for risk assessment, precisely because they may not be in a position to gauge the dangers that will confront them. Obviously the BBC does not consider itself to have a similar duty of care. The LSE had no choice but to take issue with the programme and to alert our staff and students to the deception perpetrated in their name.

Tim Allen and James Putzel
Department of international development
London School of Economics

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy