* BBC film crew posed as students and staff to film in
* University says its students were put at "grave risk"
* Test for new BBC boss, hired to rebuild after sex scandal
By Peter Griffiths
LONDON, April 15 The new head of Britain's BBC
stumbled into a new threat to its journalistic reputation on
Monday after its decision to use university students as a cover
to film secretly in North Korea was branded "reckless and
Less than two weeks after taking up his post at an
institution in turmoil after a sexual abuse scandal, BBC
Director General Tony Hall faced accusations that his flagship
news programme had used British students as "human shields".
Hall was brought in to rebuild the BBC's image after
accusations of a cover-up, managerial failings and editorial
mistakes over abuses by Jimmy Savile, one of its best known
One BBC news executive said discussions about the
documentary had gone "right to the top" and that Hall had been
involved in talks about the film in recent days.
It raised questions about its legal, ethical and moral
position at a time when its managers are under unprecedented
British universities said the BBC, with the North Korea
documentary, had endangered students and damaged their ability
to work in sensitive areas around the world.
"The entire enterprise was reckless and irresponsible from
start to finish, as well as deeply dishonest," said London
School of Economics (LSE) Director Craig Calhoun.
He said the documentary had put LSE students at "grave risk"
in the hermit east Asian state, which has threatened the United
States and South Korea with nuclear attacks.
Nicola Dandridge, who leads the body that represents nearly
all Britain's universities, said the BBC "might not only have
put students' safety at risk, but may also have damaged our
universities' reputations overseas".
Calhoun said BBC journalists posed as LSE staff or students
to "trick their way past" restrictions on Western journalists
working in North Korea.
Producers had told students only that they would be
accompanied by "a journalist", not a three-strong crew from
Panorama, one of its best-known current affairs shows, he added.
The BBC rejected LSE calls to cancel the programme, due to
be aired in Britain on Monday evening, and reaffirmed that it
was in the public interest.
Ceri Thomas, BBC News' head of programmes, said it had
explained the dangers of travelling with the TV crew to the
students and that it had been worth the risk.
"If we had any suggestion that lives were at risk or
anything approaching that - either the BBC team's lives or the
lives of the students - then we wouldn't have gone anywhere near
this," Thomas told BBC radio.
Media commentators were divided over the BBC's tactics.
Former BBC producer Charlie Beckett, who founded a
journalism think-tank at the LSE, said the filming was
However, John Lloyd, director of journalism at the Reuters
Institute for the Study of Journalism, said the timing and
content of the film made it "extremely valuable".
(Additional reporting by Sarah Young and Kate Holton; Editing
by Mark Heinrich)