Panorama Goes Undercover Investigating The Wastelands Of Thatcherite Britain




John Sweeney spends 8 days undercover in North Korea.

BBC News head of programmes Ceri Thomas said: “This is an important piece of public interest journalism.” Asked whether that justified putting student lives at risk, he replied: “We think it does.” 


So what exactly was the public interest that merited the James Bond approach?

We are informed that North Korea has been indulging in a great deal of sabre rattling rhetoric of late.

The BBC, in the shape of John Sweeney, seeks to find out if North Korea intends to go to war or is that mere rhetoric,  just flag waving bravado from a new leader?

So what did we learn from the actual visit?

That North Korea has few, if any shops, no advertising, no freedom of religion and you can’t walk where you like….all summed up with a shocking illustration of North Korean barbarity…a barbed wire fence around a field.   But you can get a phone signal leaking over the border from South Korea.

When declaring North Korea was in fact a Neo Nazi state Sweeny gave as evidence the fact that a picture of Lenin and one of Marx had disappeared from a public square….but the camera kept out of view the massive hammer and sickle emblem on top of the building so prominent in previous shots.

And that war?  Erm…well…no politicians, no statesmen, no diplomats from North Korea wanted to be interviewed so Sweeney asked his young female tour guide what she thought….it’s all America’s fault…we might have a war, we might not.


To make up for the lack of enlightening footage from North Korea Sweeney interviewed Western experts on the area, defectors living in South Korea…and a Youtube clip of a North Korean gulag.

I believe I could have made the same report from the comfort of my home using the phone and the internet….and a trip oop North to the wastelands of Northern England laid bare by Thatcherite government policies.


An utter waste of half an hour of my time watching Panorama, a waste of BBC funds paying for Sweeney’s 8 day swannee and a stupid risk to take with the accompanying students who had everything to lose and nothing to gain.

They might have ended up with a few days of rigorous interrogation and a couple of months in a North Korean chokey..but Sweeney had nothing to lose….if he doesn’t get discovered he gets his film (such as it is)…if found out and thrown in jail for a couple of years say..the BBC wll still support him and pay his wages…and when he gets out he will have an even better story…and have lost a bit of weight…so all good for him.


I haven’t looked but I can imagine anyone of those students has a better tale to tell on Facebook than Sweeney has come up with.

Still, he’s the professional, he knows what he’s doing.


An important piece of public interest journalism?


Nah, self indulgent tosh.



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48 Responses to Panorama Goes Undercover Investigating The Wastelands Of Thatcherite Britain

  1. David says:

    I hope none of the North Korean people who involuntarily appeared in the film will suffer punishment because they looked insufficiently happy with life under Kim’s inspired leadership. Or did Sweeney give them 3 opportunities to opt out too?


    • Pat says:

      I wondered whether they might suffer as a result of this too. He must have known from various responses he got that it could come back on them.


    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      They could be punished simply for talking to him or appearing on camera. Totally acceptable collateral damage so the BBC could get that story, I guess.


  2. Kyoto says:

    Channel 4 News did a short series of items on North Korea some 12-18 months ago. For the clips about North Korea they used material produced by North Korean dissidents and available outside North Korea.

    So I agree Sweeney did not have to go.

    And also I find it bizarre that there was this desperate need to equate North Korea with Nazi Germany. It appeared to be because they were militaristic, fiercely nationalistic (xenophobic) and had a personality cult over their leader. This of course was true of Stalinist Russia, Maoist China etc.


    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      It’s odd for a supposedly world-class, experienced journalist to focus on the superficial trappings like that without understanding what lies behind it. And the attempt to connect the two regimes with racism is risible. If North Korea attacks South Korea, how is that racist? They’re the same people. At best, one could say that both leaders use “the other” as a way to distract and unite the populace. But in the Norks case, “the other” is everyone else. The regime didn’t originally start out as a drive for Korean racial purity.


  3. Justin Casey says:

    Maybe he can investigate who stole all the laptops from bbc premises, that`s if he isn`t too busy keeping lookout whilst his co workers molest more vunerable children….


    • scoobywho says:

      I wonder how many beeboid children share the same brand of laptop.
      I worked in an office at one time – I was never short of biros or envelopes during that time.


      • Guest Who says:

        “I wonder how many beeboid children share the same brand of laptop”

        Or, maybe, they never leave the building, but end up as disposable off-books burners for use by the rebuttal squad in the bunker?
        Couple of drive-by snipes under a new nickname and then it’s at the bottom of Salford Quays before they can type ‘you lot’ and misjudge another stout defence of the indefensible?
        The few outings of late have been classics.


  4. Daniel O'Flaherty says:

    I was sympathetic to Sweeney’s justification before seeing this programme, believing him to be a journalist of integrity. I now withdraw my former opinion, and consider him to be a typical Guardianista.
    Why this shallow and rather odd has appeared at this time is interesting. Perhaps leftists can stop their head exploding in cognitive dissonance if war breaks out between Obama-land and North Korea if they brainlessly rebrand it as “Far Right” and therefore a legitimate target. Otherwise how would they cope with American feet in the far East without mentioning “Vietnam”?


  5. pah says:

    Given that the programme was somewhat dull, uninformative and lacking in original content is it possible that the fuss over the LSE students was designed to boost ratings?

    Also, the idea that NK is in any way fascist is laughable. Are the BBC really trying to say that fascism is Communism with nationalism and god-like leaders? Then the USSR under Lenin and Stalin must have been fascist too! And as for Mao …

    But at least they are starting to admit that fascism is a left wing philosophy at last.


    • Guest Who says:

      ‘is it possible that the fuss over the LSE students was designed to boost ratings?’
      All things are possible.
      However, given the impact on BBC credibility, ethics, double standards, management coherence, etc on top of a less than stellar preceding set, if so it would seem to have backfired rather spectacularly.
      What is interesting now is spotting the one of the 147 PR persons employed at our expense to trawl all blogs and forums trying to sound like real people when trotting out party lines while suggesting it is all just a storm on a teacup.


  6. stewart says:

    DPRK-socialism with a nationalist face or nationalism with socialist face?
    who’s leader for life inspires unquestioning adulation from the faithful,yet to outsiders looks like a short fat comic-hall character-Oh no that’s the SNP sorry.


    • Albaman says:

      THE SNP were elected to govern Scotland in a multi-party democratic ballot. The democratically elected government then followed the manifesto upon which they were elected. Do you have an issue with democracy?


      • stewart says:

        No do you have an issue with comedy?


        • Guest Who says:

          What brings a Flokker out of the bunker flailing around, and what leaves them mute inside, can be as interesting as what the BBC chooses to make a song and dance about, or suddenly feel ‘is not relevant’.
          Ceri Thomas would approve.


        • Amounderness Lad says:

          Stewart, the SNP are notorious for their lack of a sense of humour and are so insecure they burst a blood vessel at the slightest sign of being mocked especially when it comes to their puffed up leader, Wee Eck.


          • stewart says:

            Clearly- Would it be unfair of me to mention that there is historical precedent
            for a socilist nationalist party being
            ‘elected to govern in a multi-party democratic ballot.’ and that they to
            ‘followed the manifesto upon which they were elected’ as the BBC are constantly warning us?


  7. David Preiser (USA) says:

    I read Sweeney’s print version he got published in the Daily Mail, but haven’t seen the actual Panorama feature. Was there anything original or new or revelatory in it at all? The article he wrote was a rehash of nearly every other report I’ve ever read from a Western journalist spending a few days in the lunatic asylum. The only unique feature was the photos. And even those showed nothing we’ve never seen before. We got just as much important new insight from Sweeney as we did from Dennis Rodman.

    This whole thing smacks of “me, too”, the BBC having to do their own version of the same thing everyone else does, just because they can. A pointless exercise, except to give the BBC something else to crow about and hold up as an example of how great a news organization they are.


  8. +james says:

    I like the North Korean documentary about America.


  9. Deborah says:

    I presume Sweeney wanted to do this Panorama because he had access to the place through his wife. We never have been told why she organised a trip there last year and who these students were who had £2,000 to pay for a holiday. Was it worth it – well he certainly has got a lot of publicity to add to his value as an ‘intrepid’ reporter but imagine that now even students will be banned from visiting North Korea and even less than before will be known about what happens there.


    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      There may very well be some valid academic reasons for the original trip, and this one as well. But I think you’re right in saying that Sweeney and the BBC saw an opportunity they could exploit for some viewer ratings (ratings = public service broadcasting, value for money, and justification for the license fee) and maybe bragging rights, something they could wave in the faces of their competitors. Oops.


  10. Billy Blofeld says:

    The BBC has started re-positioning Korea as a right-wing extremist country. This is on purpose.


    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      “Right=wing” = something the BBC doesn’t like.


    • Demon says:

      Same as they called the hard-left Soviet communists who tried to rebel against Glasnost as right-wingers. Even one stupid Conservative MP (can’t remember the idiot’s name) followed them like a good sheep which appeared to give creedence to their spin.


    • Rich Tee says:

      Yep, I came here specifically to note how they used a commentator who described the regime as “far right”.


    • RCE says:

      Dez was at the same trick a while ago describing Muslim terrorists as ‘far right’ and I believe Dame Nicky has form too.


  11. John Paul Jones says:

    I agree this was a none programme, made by a none journalist working for a none news organisation. There is a trend in BBC ‘news and current affairs’ for the journalist to become the centre of the reporting. It is a kind of ‘vanity’ reporting. Not sure if this is present in other news organisations. It most likely is. But if the BBC wishes to claim that it is the ‘best’ then it needs to purge itself of this kind of reporting.
    The only message this report wished to convey was that North Korea is not a Marxist/Leninist/Stalinist state. Au contraire, it is a nationalist fascist state. Evidence, to support this assertion: well boys and girls let’s not make this too difficult, so here we go using the BBC journalist school tool kit, a kind of televisual, painting by numbers.
    1. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Kim One) admired Hitler
    2. North Korea is the most militarised nation in history (during peace time). Nazi Germany only reached the same levels of militarisation after WWII started. Wait a minute I thought it was the Swiss, who have a citizen army of which all military fit adults are members. I could be wrong.
    3. The North Korean Peoples Workers Party rallies look like Nuremberg Nazi rallies.
    4. They goose step. Sorry not mentioned. Why? DDR and Soviets goosed stepped. Better not paint that block in then.
    I am thinking of writing to the BBC. Draft letter below
    Dear BBC, if I may make a suggestion, next time sending Clarkson and Co. The Top Gear tour of North Korea. The boys will face such challenges as:
    1. Finding a motor vehicle to purchase. Only none military vehicles may be purchased.
    2. Evading your minder.
    3. Driving at night, with no lights through the North Korean country side.
    4. Painting slogans on the side of their vehicles (none motorised rickshaws) such as 3 Kim’s do not a trinity make/Wi love Samsung/Boiler suits are pants.
    We can then see if the good old boys of the north react in the same way that the good old boys of the southern USA reacted to the deliberately provocative Man Love rules OK/Hillary 4 President/Country Music sucks painted on the side of their vehicles when they journeyed from Florida to New Orleans.
    Have you noticed that it is only on their journey through the southern USA that they have ever posted anything on the side of their vehicles aimed at insulting the locals? I know there was that incident in India with a train, but the slogan was not aimed at insulting the locals.
    On their travels through Iraq to Bethlehem, taking in Turkey and Syria there were no slogans such as Free the Kurds/Islam is not the religion of peace/Man Love rules OK. Why?
    Just notice I am having a NONE day


  12. chrisH says:

    Well that was shooting star of a story wasnt` it?
    If that useless bit of flaccid film had even a modicum of decency or originality. I`m sure the BBC would have been banging on about the “public Interest”.
    But not a peep about it all since it was shown.
    I think the BBC know its a pile of crap-and rather hope we`ll all forget this flurry.
    Far as I`m concerned, they put students lives at risk in return for a pile of old slop….but the BBC will always defend anything that it does.
    It`s the BBC you know….they report all wrongs, pronounce judgement on any wrongs offered to it…but simply can`t be wrong themselves.


    • chrisH says:

      If this LSE scandal is a mere shooting star to the BBC,then Swansea and its measles is the spiv flicking a coin in the corner and ever ready to get back on the radio.
      Webb took up twenty minutes near enough as a PSA for everybody round the country to man up and be vaccinated…bloody Andrew Wakefield dug up a la Savile by way of a boo boy for the quacks and liberals like l`il Justin.
      I suppose the dead time was padded out with this zombie story, whilst the rest of the editing “team” were looking through US right wing groups who deserve to be impugned for Boston…and not, no, nay never now more those lovely Muslims.
      Why one served me a sherry top last week near Glyndebourne…what harm could his lovely pals do to us at the BBC?


  13. Billy Blofeld says:

    As step-father to a teenager, I’ve noticed that he and his friends are all obsessed by Korea. They first became interested in Korea following Kim Jong II’s comedy appearance in the film “Team America”. It was their favourite film for years.

    So the film Team America has ensured that Korea is on the radar of interest for teenagers. As they have got older, Korea has changed from the setting for their favourite comedy, to the place which might cause the 3rd World War.

    Korea has replaced Russia, in the minds of teenagers who are worried about global destruction. A subject teenagers have traditionally always worried about.

    There are many reasons that the BBC will be seeking to re-brand Korea as a right-wing extremist state. I suggest that one of these reasons, is that they know that there are impressionable teenage minds they can influence.

    My step-son has never decided to watch a documentary before (under his own steam). Panorama’s Korea documentary was the first. In my opinion the BBC is purposefully targeting teenagers and seeking to imprint their politics on the next generation of voters.

    My step-son and his Korean interested age group are all 17 at the moment. They’ll be able to vote at the next general election. Now is the perfect time to influence long term political loyalty in the next batch voters, at the start of their voting lives – “Left wing good. Right wing bad”.


  14. Daniel O'Flaherty says:

    The only thing of interest was how North Korea’s brainwashing techniques are in some ways similar to the BBC’s. Perhaps Sweeney should do an undercover investigation of the BBC.
    “Tonight, the world’s most secretive news agency.”
    He’s clearly very interested in brainwashing techniques, what with this and his Scientology outburst.


  15. ron todd says:

    If the BBC want to investigate backwards repressive places that do not welcome anybody that does not share their opinions and values why not send Mr Sweeney to Mecca?


  16. I have no idea says:

    Thank god Alex is here to bring us the truth about the great people’s republic of North Korea. I for one would never trust a TV programme made by a journalist who had been there. I am glad Alex and BIASEDBBC are on the side of the triumphant PEEPLES REPUBLEEK OF NORTH KOREA. Alex we thank you.


  17. moonrakin says:

    When you step back a little, that Stalin >>> Hitler re-branding thing defies any other interpretation than being crude and deeply arrogant display of contempt for the audience – when I saw it – I thought what? but then thought oh well, what’s next – but as I have thought on about the intent behind the words – I got quite angry.

    There’s something unhealthily intense about Sweeney’s delivery – his attempts to confront those doctors was toe-curling and actually the action of a naive twerp – if the individuals concerned had truthfully answered the questions there’s little doubt the consequences would have been terminal.

    Absolutely, categorically piss poor reportage with added inept and patronising lies and an attempted re-branding of a very delinquent socialist regime – the program actually says more about the BBC than it does about The Peoples Democratic Republic of North Korea.

    Nobody, certainly not me is saying I think that it’s a worker’s paradise – a very dangerous open air nut house possibly – but the drivel delivered by John Sweeney & co is woeful.


    • Wild says:

      “piss poor reportage with added inept and patronising lies and an attempted re-branding of a very delinquent socialist regime”

      The BBC Current Affairs division in a nutshell – that these sneering half-wit Guardian reader “journalists” have engineered a near monopoly of television news is pure Stalinism.


    • Rich Tee says:

      Agreed. I was squirming when he confronted the doctor. What did he think they were going to say?

      It was just embarassing, like his outburst at the scientologist.


  18. Germanicus says:

    He made a point out of a couple of North Koreans digging around in the mud at the side of a river, the insinuation being that they were starving peasants looking for food, for all he knows they could have been looking for fishing bait or anything. Never mind that you can see homeless people in almost every large UK town or city rooting in bins for food.


    • Rich Tee says:

      He wasn’t allowed to get out and go talk to them to verify it though, was he?

      You can talk to a homeless person in Britain anytime you like. Britain has a generous welfare state and local councils will help the homeless if they ask for help. Generally their problems are low self esteem and drug addiction rather than lack of access to housing.


  19. k920 says:….breaking news,the leftists were wrong.


    • Albaman says:

      Wrong about what?


    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      So far all reports on this have been wrong, all US media who ran with it are retracting. Again. This includes the BBC. That didn’t stop Mark Mardell from sneering on Tiwtter at CNN who led the bumbling.

      All of this happened with a huge amount of infrastructure and money behind all these professional, world-class media organizations, with layers of editors and fact-checkers. It’s not the first time it’s happened either, not by a long shot. Not to mention all the Beeboids openly speculating on who did it, while simultaneously declaring who didn’t, all based on zero evidence. Tomorrow, all will be forgotten and we’ll all be expected to go on trusting them implicitly.

      Yet defenders of the indefensible continue to hold us to a much higher standard.


  20. k920 says:

    the bbc leftist media and co, blamed the boston bombing on these so called imaginary far right extremists,now they have gone all quiet and creeped back under there stones,and you say wrong about what?


  21. pedro says:

    my gut feeling is this comrades,,,it could be a white man involved in this terrorist attack in boston,,but not some right wing militant,,,i think he is either a white muslim convert or a far left anarchist,,,i done some research today and i found out that amercica has a long history going to back the 60s of far left anarchist groups involment in terrorist attacks against there own citixens,,,right wing militant groups tend to attack goverment buildings so i tend to rule them out of this boston terrorist attack,,,i.could be wrong on both scores comrades,,,but my hunch is this is a white muslim convert or far left anarchist who carried out this cowardly terrorist attack in boston……………….


  22. peter says:

    i cant understand why the fbi are prolonging the pain of the people in boston usa,they have the image of this suspect on cctv,just release this damm image and get this coward arrested and waterboarded