BBC Tokyo correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, producer Maria Byrne and cameraman Matthew Goddard were detained by North Korean officials on Friday and are being expelled from the country. The BBC reports that the team was held over the weekend with Wingfield-Hayes questioned for eight hours; they were taken to the airport this morning. At issue for Pyongyang was the news crew’s “disrespectful” reporting, per CNN. According to Chinese state media, at a press conference this morning, an official with the country’s National Peace Committee accused the journalists of “attacking” the DPRK system and “non-objective reporting.”
Reports have suggested that hackles were raised over a broadcast in which Wingfield-Hayes visited a children’s hospital and said the patients looked “remarkably well, and there isn’t a real doctor in sight… Everything we see looks like a set-up.”
Per The Guardian, O Ryong Il, secretary-general of the National Peace Committee, said Wingfield-Hayes’ coverage “spoke ill of the system and the leadership of the country.”
Recalling the reaction of the government to 2014’s The Interview, CNN correspondent Will Ripley said from Pyongyang today, “North Koreans take very seriously comments made about their leader,” Kim Jung-un.
The team was in North Korea ahead of the Workers Party Congress, but was not covering the event. The conference is the first of its kind in 36 years and marks the DPRK’s rare opening up to a bevy of foreign journalists. The BBC crew was instead said to be accompanying a delegation of Nobel Prize laureates on a research trip.
O Ryong Il is also reported to have addressed the BBC during the press conference, saying, “We think that if the BBC is a genuine, true, international media organization you should be acting in such a way as to respect the law and system in the country, and you must admit your mistakes.”
A BBC spokesman said, “We are very disappointed that our reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and his team have been deported from North Korea after the government took offence at material he had filed. Four BBC staff, who were invited to cover the Workers Party Congress, remain in North Korea and we expect them to be allowed to continue their reporting.”
CNN reports that another BBC correspondent who was at the press conference asked how the world would view the fact that North Korea had detained and punished a journalist for reporting things that they didn’t agree with. The question, CNN said, remained unanswered.