November 27, 2020

Undercover BBC Trip to North Korea Is Criticized

But among the students, the university announced in an outraged statement over the weekend, were three BBC journalists filming an undercover documentary. The BBC, the university said, “deliberately misled” the group to underplay the scope of the reporting, placed the students in danger and jeopardized its work in politically fraught nations. It demanded that the BBC pull the film, set for broadcast on Monday, and issue an apology.

The BBC declined, saying that the documentary on a country so few people understand was in the public interest. And in a statement released Sunday, the BBC disputed the university’s account. It said the students had been told that a journalist would be present “and were reminded of it again, in time to have been able to change their plans if they wanted to.”

But the BBC, which the university says actually sent three journalists, also later acknowledged that it had not told the students of the nature of the documentary, in what it characterized as a bid to keep them safe if the journalists were found out and the students were questioned about what they knew.

Although at least some tourists are now allowed into the police state, reporters need government permission to work there and are assigned minders. In 2009 two American journalists, Laura Ling, then 32, and Euna Lee, then 36, were arrested and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor after being accused of illegally entering North Korean territory while researching a report on women and human trafficking. They were spared the prospect of years in a brutal gulag when former President Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang and negotiated their release four months later.

Alex Peters-Day, the lead student representative for the university, said Sunday that students had received e-mails from the North Korean government on their return saying that it had learned that reporters were with the group and was very angry. Ms. Peters-Day disputed the BBC version of events, saying the students had not been given enough information to give informed consent.

Craig Calhoun, the university’s director, said in a post on Twitter that the trip “was not an official LSE trip.” He said the BBC had essentially recruited some students in a university-affiliated student international relations group, the Grimshaw Club, and had “passed it off” as a student trip.

Ms. Peters-Day said that students had received an e-mail suggesting the trip from one of the BBC journalists, Tomiko Sweeney, who is married to the lead reporter on the documentary, John Sweeney, and is a former LSE student. Mr. Sweeney did not respond to a message left on his cellphone, but said, in a BBC radio interview and on Twitter that he disputed the school’s allegations. There was no answer at a London number listed for the couple.

Ceri Thomas, the BBC’s head of news, said Sunday that though the trip had been organized by Mr. Sweeney’s wife, it “was going to happen before the BBC got involved.” The students were warned of the dangers in two meetings in London and again in Beijing, he said. “The only people we deceived,” he said of the documentary, “was the North Korean government. And if the students were in on that deception they were in a worse position.”

The public interest argument for the documentary was “overwhelming,” Mr. Thomas said. North Korea is “a country that is hidden from view, where we suspect that brutal things are happening, one of the most oppressive regimes on the planet which is threatening nuclear war in the Korean Peninsula.”

The standoff marks the second time this year that the world’s delicate diplomatic dance with North Korea over its escalating nuclear threats has been disturbed by a television crew. In late February, the magazine Vice sent the former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman to Pyongyang to meet the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, an avid basketball fan, for a documentary series it is producing in collaboration with HBO.

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Economix: Obama vs. Romney, an Early Skirmish



Thoughts on the economic scene.

A recent Twitter exchange between Bill Burton, a former adviser to President Obama who remains close to the White House, and Eric Fehrnstrom, a longtime adviser to Mitt Romney, highlights the different tacks the two 2012 campaigns are taking on issues.

On Monday, Mr. Burton pointed to Mr. Romney’s refusal at times to engage in the deficit debate in Washington, including the Republicans’ recent cut, cap and balance bill:

Things Mitt Romney probably won’t raise at his Wall St fundraiser: cut/cap/balance, gay marriage… what else?

Polls suggest that some of the main positions that Congressional Republicans have taken, like favoring a major overhaul of Medicare, may be unpopular with voters. In the 2012 campaign, Mr. Obama will almost certainly try to tie his opponent to some of the less popular positions of the Republican Party. That will especially be true of those positions that the ultimate nominee adopts during the primaries. (For now, White House officials view Mr. Romney as the clear front-runner.)

Republicans will no doubt respond that Mr. Obama is trying to change the topic from the state of the economy. Not long after Mr. Burton’s message, Mr. Fehrnstrom wrote back:

Positive economic news? MT@ billburton716 Things Romney won’t raise at his Wall St fundraiser: cut/cap/balance, gay marriage… what else?

On the whole, I’ve been struck by the similarity between Mr. Romney’s tone so far and Bill Clinton’s tone in the 1992 campaign. Their suggested remedies for the weak economy, of course, are far different.

My column this week has more on the subject.

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Media Decoder: Harvard Business Review Reinvention Is Paying Off

Shortly after editors at the Harvard Business Review tore up their magazine in 2009, adding pictures to the cover, reader comments to their signature case studies and colorful illustrations — the horror! — cranky reader comments started coming in.

Ricky Gervais in the April 2011 issue of Harvard Business Review.

“Need to be very careful to balance between ‘dry’ and ‘breezy,’ lest you devalue the brand into a Forbes-style publication,” wrote one disgruntled reader.

But a year and a half later, the magazine’s editors say that worries about alienating its readers have proved unfounded.

“We just heard Bill Clinton give us a shout-out on ‘Closing Bell,’ ” Adi Ignatius, editor of the Harvard Business Review Group, said in a recent interview. “Newsstand is way up, renewals are way up, advertising is way up. And it’s not a situation where a rising tide lifts all boats.”

According to the Review’s figures, unit sales on the newsstand, where copies cost $16.95, are up 19 percent. New blogs and additional content on its Web site have pushed up visits. Page views in April grew to seven million, compared with 600,000 four years ago, the Review said.

Among the features that are drawing attention are very un-Harvard Business Review-like items — especially features like a Q. and A. with the comedian Ricky Gervais, below. Mr. Ignatius proudly pointed to other reader feedback that landed in his in-box recently.

“Just want to compliment you on the quality of HBR. I have never seen it better,” said one e-mail Mr. Ignatius shared that was signed “Jeff,” as in Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric.

The magazine has also signed several new advertisers this year, like Cartier, British Airways and Goldman Sachs. Circulation, after falling in 2008 and 2009, was essentially flat in 2010, at 237,000.

Mr. Ignatius said that so far, readers displeased with the redesign were in the minority. He did, however, acknowledge making one mistake in scrapping a beloved feature: executive summaries of articles.

“I thought: ‘Do we really need a whole section toward the back of the magazine where we summarize everything?’ ” he said. “I got this whole barrage of complaints saying, ‘Put this back, you idiot.’ So we did.”

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