March 01, 2021

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Undercover in North Korea: Making It Harder For Serious Researchers To Do Their Job

"Obtaining authorizations for academic visits, research work or exchanges with North Korea has always proven difficult and programs like this do not help at all"

I have just finished watching BBC Panorama’s “Undercover in North Korea”, perhaps the best example of what documentaries on North Korea should not be like. Let me be perfectly clear: these are thirty minutes of biased, factually incorrect, snobbish, uninformative, stereotypical, absolutely useless footage.

I will later explain why it is so, but first we ought to underscore that in order to produce such a masterpiece, John Sweeney and his crew (plus his wife, who organized the trip) had to put at serious risk a group of students from the London School of Economics (LSE). Even though the visit was not  intended as track-II diplomacy, this step may prove detrimental to years of work in engagement for a constructive dialogue with North Korea (and before we proceed: ‘constructive’ means ‘positive’: an attempt of understanding, not an apology for the North Korean leadership’s undeniable wrongdoings). Obtaining authorizations for academic visits, research work or exchanges with North Korea has always proven difficult, and programs like this do not help at all.