I do not normally comment on political issues, but I think I do need to comment on BBC going undercover with LSE students in North Korea because of its wider implication on academic research, something the Press seems to have either no interest of, or that I am wrong by raising this issue.
BBC got its programme, so it is one up for BBC. North Korea was deceived, so it is one down for North Korea. This much is clear.
I am going to skip over the question of whether the LSE students were capable of giving ‘informed consent’. ‘Informed consent’ is a very complicated issues involving how much one knows and when one knows about it.
And I am also skipping over the issue whether there is conflict of interest over the trip. I am leaning towards no conflict of interest, but the fact that the presenter spouse organized the trip do raise eyebrow. If the case is taken any further, I hope this issue is examined. I cannot take the fact that no party raise this as an issue as no issue because both parties has something to lose by indulging in this issue.
What I am going to concentrate on is whether the LSE students are right to allow BBC to go undercover with them. I am assuming proper ‘informed consent’ and they did know it is going to be a big documentary. I think they are wrong.
Before I continue, I have to put my disclaimer in now: I am working in an academic-support role.
The reason I think they are wrong is because they did not uphold the principle of academic neutrality. Yes, we always had academics working as spy, or spy posing as academics. We also always have journalist posing as academics (as in the case here). I believe one should defend academic neutrality by not getting involve in these skullduggery.
Why? A lot of real bona fide academics rely on neutrality to protect them and to allow them to carry out valuable works, especially in conflict zone or where the political situation is hostile. They manage this because of the trust others give them. The LSE students had just destroyed this trust and put everyone of them at risk by raising suspicion on them. They should not had allowed BBC or anyone to tag along. Now everyone is going to be suspicious of all academic research activities. This damages academic research in a way that is difficult to repair. All for what? A throw-away TV programme? That’s why Academic Research got a -10 from me instead of -2.
I do realised I should not be this harsh on the students. After all, they are students. If my experience is any guide, they are more likely to be young and inexperience. In all likelihood, they haven’t considered my point here. If they had, they probably realized that they just made their potential academic career harder for themselves. After all, if your studies required you to go overseas to research your subject matters, ain’t you closing the doors to yourself by getting involved in this mess?