Letters: Korea prank imperils research

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, April 17th, 2013
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We cannot condemn too strongly the dishonesty and irresponsible behaviour that endangered the liberty and possibly even the lives of the young people on a trip to North Korea.

Even though they returned unscathed, it appears to have escaped the notice of the BBC that it has probably caused even longer-lasting damage.

Many academic disciplines, including anthropology and archaeology, with which we are all concerned, undertake academic research not only in North Korea, but in other countries that are not favourably inclined to academic research at present. Now they will have a reason to reject research projects altogether. So future knowledge may well have been jeopardised as the result of the scandalous behaviour of a few. And for what? A film that shows nothing more than the normal tourist’s view of North Korea

Professor Emeritus Roy Ellen FBA

Immediate past President, the Royal Anthropological Institute, University of Kent

Professor Clive Gamble FBA

President, the Royal Anthropological Institute, Southampton University

Professor Mark Harris

Head of Anthropology Department, St Andrews University.

Dr David Shankland

Director, the Royal Anthropological Institute

Professor Emeritus Jean La Fontaine

Past President, the Royal Anthropological Institute,  London School of Economics


So what did the Panorama programme tell us? North Korea is an isolated, paranoid, militarised state. Its people are subjugated and impoverished. Its infrastructure is decrepit. Who did not know this? The justification for this programme that it was an informative piece of journalism is twaddle.

If the tour group had been banged up for being spies this could have escalated into a major incident. Does the BBC senior management not need to approve such activity? The members of the tour were fortunate to come through this prank unscathed. What of the fate of the North Koreans who were filmed? If the BBC wants to occupy the moral high ground surely they should also be considered.

Tony Taylor, Church Minshull, Cheshire


Would the BBC have been happy to compromise its own reputation and the current and future safety of its own staff by inserting Mr Sweeney and his crew as underground operatives in, say, a David Attenborough nature programme filming in North Korea? I suspect not.

Martin Slater  , Fellow in Economics,  St Edmund Hall, Oxford


Thatcher is gone, but the legacy is still with us

Should Big Ben be silenced for the Thatcher funeral? One might contend that this does not go far enough. An appropriate way of publicly recalling the deceased would be also for  the whole day to close our museums and public galleries, to stop work in our universities, especially their humanities departments, to cancel services on our railways, and so on. 

Of course we should bear it in mind that though these are all institutions she attacked, she was not personally responsible for all their subsequent forced deterioration, and is now just a symbol for the continuing damage inflicted by her ideological successors. So it would be better instead to do our best to demonstrate defiantly, clearly, and loudly that the values embodied in these things are still alive.

Ian White, Cambridge


The choice of hymns for Baroness Thatcher’s funeral is amusing.

Cecil Spring Rice, the author of “I Vow to Thee my Country”, was the son of a Whig MP. Gustav Holst, whose wonderful melody comes from the Planets suite,  was a lifelong socialist who, in between teaching at Morley College for working men and women, delivered Socialist Worker through letter boxes.

His lifelong friend Vaughan Williams was also a socialist and both men refused honours and knighthoods. VW adapted  a Sussex folk song he had collected from a farm worker to words rewritten from Bunyan by the Rev Percy Dearmer: “He who would Valiant be”. Dearmer, an energetic vicar from Primrose Hill, was passionate about socialism and his gifts and advancement were ignored because of his beliefs. He and Vaughan Williams were the editors of the English Hymnal, which appeared in 1906. Both were immediately denounced by the ultra-conservative Archbishop from the pulpit of Canterbury Cathedral for using folk tunes, among other things.

Philip Spratley, Deeping St James, Lincolnshire


Turned out nice again? It looks as if the weather for Mrs T’s parade will be a meteorological metaphor for her legacy. Fine and sunny in the South, nasty and inclement in the North.

Martin Wallis, Shipdham, Norfolk


The funeral of Maggie T is the ultimate insult to her memory and legacy, nationalised and heavily subsidised by the public purse as it is.

Dr Peter Smith, Watton-at-Stone, Hertford


If your electricity was on all day yesterday without three-hour blackouts.

If your train was modern, on time and not on strike.

If your son or daughter did not have to sit on the German front line waiting to be incinerated in the first hours of the Red Army attack.

If you woke up free to elect your own government and express your own views in Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary or the former East Germany.

If your telephone or power company connected up with some competitive enthusiasm rather than a wait of months.

If you didn’t lie awake in Britain knowing that hundreds of Soviet nuclear missiles were targeted at your home.

If you could go to school in the Falklands and speak English, not Spanish.

If you could choose your best local school instead of being ordered to a failing sink school by town hall prodnoses.

If your British-built car – such as Nissan or Honda as well as Jaguar or Land Rover – is world-class instead of the unreliable rust-heap national joke.

If you can get an operation on the NHS within six months of being diagnosed.

If you are free to go to work without being bullied by thuggish pickets from a completely different industry.

If you are not forced to give hundreds of pounds a year to union bosses you cannot control.

If you could take home half and probably much more of your wages without the state using it to subsidise hopeless industries.

If you know that your daughters can excel in the highest offices in the land....

Thank Margaret Thatcher.

Benedict le Vay, London SW19


I keep reading about how Margaret Thatcher saved Britain from the greed and power of the trade unions.

But today the problem is the greed and power of corporate elites, as is made clear by the huge salaries and bonuses routinely paid in Britain’s company boardrooms and the City. These people now dictate to governments what they will and will not accept, accompanied by threats that they will emigrate if they do not get what they want.

So who will save us from the tyranny of big business, which now effectively runs the country?

Pete Dorey, Bath, Somerset


Politics of the short term

Willie Walsh is absolutely correct (“Government under fire over Heathrow and visa regime”, 11 April). Governments of all persuasions are unwilling to take decisive actions which might be unpopular but necessary. In the time taken to come to a decision on a third runway at Heathrow, the French had practically built Charles de Gaulle airport. The cost of the consultation was not insubstantial either.

It has been recognised for at least 10 years that a decision was required immediately on nuclear or other power generation, but we are hardly any further forward and still in thrall to a cartel of mostly overseas power companies.

We need a system of government in which strategic decisions are taken on a 10- or 15-year time frame, not one based on winning the next election.

John Laird, Harrogate


Sign up to press regulation, or else

Evan Harris’s letter refers to incentives for newspaper and magazine companies to join the new system of press regulation (16 April). It would be a disgrace if the newspaper groups who have behaved the worst refuse to participate, as some are threatening. I believe it would be justifiable to link the current  0 per cent VAT rate for newspapers to the new regulatory system.

Just as charities have to comply with charity law to receive their tax advantages, newspaper or magazine groups should have to sign up to regulation to receive theirs.

Richard Mountford, Hildenborough, Kent


Discredited views on MMR

While we applaud your editorial, “Andrew Wakefield’s baleful legacy” (13 April), we are very concerned about the resurrection, on the front page, of old claims repeated recently by disgraced doctor Andrew Wakefield. All of the accusations made by Dr Wakefield are false, were answered repeatedly many years ago, and have been comprehensively discredited.

In the light of the measles epidemic in South Wales, it is particularly worrying that your story gave a platform for Dr Wakefield to air his discredited views.

Professor Dame Sally Davies

Chief Medical Officer

Professor David Salisbury

Director of Immunisation

Department of Health, London SW1


Unfair pensions

James Crosby and Andy Hornby both left with huge pensions after relatively short periods of service. When defined-benefit pension schemes are regarded as unaffordable, senior executives are walking away with pensions far in excess of what they would have received under the rules of the now defunct schemes. Is there any integrity left in the corporate world?

Jim Donnelly, Edinburgh


Expensive claim

Whatever the merits of Jim McGovern’s expense claim, it is a scandal that it took a £27,000 tribunal to make a decision on a claim worth less than a hundredth of that. Any manager in the private sector could expect to be fired if lawyers and a tribunal judge were required to settle a run-of-the-mill issue like this.

Paul Rex, South Warnborough, Hampshire