Monday, 15 April 2013

Journalism, Ethics and Student Exchange

The story of BBC Panorama journalists posing as LSE students to get into North Korea has made me think about the way that educational exchange can be used and misused. Students are a "safe" category, considered to be pretty harmless and free of controversy. This good reputation can help students gain access to places, people & things needed for educational purposes. Unfortunately, the guise of "educational purposes" can be used to cover up other uses. The journalists posed as students to gain access to North Korea--despite the fact that the North Korean government does allow Western journalists to get a journalist visa (no doubt it demands more paperwork and time, but it does exist). By lying about their status, they endangered the students who travelled with them, the North Korean tour guides, and damaged the reputation of the BBC, LSE, and Western journalists in general. For a paranoid country like North Korea, this act just reinforced all of their fears. 

I think that what upsets me most is the fact they were from the BBC. Putting aside the huge fact that the BBC is publicly funded, the BBC is considered to be the standard bearer for journalism & ethical practices. When stories about wiretapping and hacking come out, it's Murdoch, not the BBC, behind it. The Jimmy Savile cover-up damaged the BBC's reputation a bit, but it's still a surprise to see stories like this. Have standards fallen at the BBC? And if so, why?

On the other hand, it's possible that both the Savile story and this one were both encouraged in the media, in order to make the BBC look bad on purpose. The Conservatives don't like the BBC or the NHS, and even though they are stuck with both institutions due to overwhelming public support, they're not happy about it.  Stories like this one, and NHS-related scandals, are the only way they can chip away at these institutions, because they diminish public support.

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