Last week BBC caused a furor in international media when word got out that its reporter John Sweeney, posing as a PhD student, entered North Korea undercover with a group of students from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Sweeney was sent to the North to report for the prime-time BBC program Panorama.
Most media reports focused on the potential danger to students posed by Sweeney’s ruse, while at least one in theHuffington Post underscores the fact that Sweeney’s covert reportage could have put North Korean tour guides in a perilous position.
Aside from verifying what is already widely known about North Korea – it’s poor, it’s tightly controlled, military presence is always close at hand – reports tend to offer only skewed accounts. Hence the rife misconceptions about what North Korea is like – especially amid recent tensions – and the media’s grossly simplified portrayals of the local tour guides who bridge the nation with the outside world, albeit in a limited way.
The Diplomat recently spoke with Simon Cockerell of North Korea tour operator Koryo Tours in Beijing. In this interview, Cockerell shares his observations on what it’s been like to be inside North Korea in recent days, the intricacies of tourism to the nation and the humanity of its misunderstood tour guides. He describes a very different experience to the one Panorama presented.
For perspective, how many times have you been to North Korea? READ MORE