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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 15 April 2013

LSE & North Korea

When I was a first year undergraduate at LSE John Sweeney was the student president of my hall of residence, in fact I played football with him on Sunday mornings in Regent's Park - occasionally in the sartorially outrageous Passfield Hall pink footie kit (I think an originally white kit had been put in the wash with some red clothes). He struck me at the time as a decent enough bloke, a bit full of himself, but not particularly obnoxious. It didn't surprise me that he became a journalist. And now he's in trouble with his alma mater.
It's difficult to get all the facts straight about the North Korean junket, but as far as I can see the BBC weren't as up front about what was going on as they might have been. There is quite a difference between being told in London that a journalist is going to travel with you and being told once you've flown to Bejing that, well, actually it is three journalists and they are going to film. Theoretically you could pull out at that point, but the pressure to continue must have been strong. And all for for what? We know already that North Korea isn't a bundle of laughs so what are we going to learn from a highly supervised tourist trip? I don't need hidden camera shots of miserable looking people trying to find a cabbage to buy in the market to persuade me that life there is unpleasant.
The reaction of the LSE nicely illustrates though the convoluted thinking that British universities engage in to demonstrate that they are fulfilling their duty of care. The Grimshaw Club that organized the trip is an LSE student society, but the trip itself was not an official LSE trip - in fact the School authorities apparently knew nothing about it. The participants were adults and they were told something, if not the full story, about the journalistic subterfuge. By what right could the LSE stop freely consenting adults traveling to North Korea in the company of a journalist? You or I might think it unwise, even foolish to go on such a trip, but, as far as I know, being a student at a university does not give that institution the right to tell you what to do in your spare time. 
Though having said that, I'm told that the LSE engages in a few "North Korean practices" of its own, especially with regard to employees with Tier 2 visas. It's a very odd employer that believes it has a right to maintain a record of the whereabouts of its employees outside of working hours.

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