Students from the London School of Economics who made a field trip to North Korea have received threats from the regime after it emerged that the BBC used the visit to make an undercover film, the university said on Monday.
LSE Director Craig Calhoun said some of the students had
received threatening letters following the revelation that an investigative reporter had posed as one of them during a field trip last month to the highly secretive communist state.
"We have received complaints from North Korean authorities, and some of the students who went on the trip have received threats. They have received letters," Calhoun told The Guardian newspaper.
The BBC had no immediate comment on the threats, but it earlier refused the LSE's request that it cancel the film, due to be broadcast on the Panorama investigative programme on Monday.
The prestigious university said the "subterfuge" was "reckless and irresponsible", pointing out that if the North Korean authorities had discovered the journalists then the whole group could have been detained.
However, the BBC said in a statement that "the public interest in broadcasting this programme is very strong indeed" at a time when North Korea is keeping the world guessing over an expected missile launch.
The week-long trip was organised by Tomiko Newson, the Japanese wife of experienced BBC investigative reporter John Sweeney and herself a recent LSE graduate. She and her husband made the trip along with a BBC cameraman, with Sweeney apparently claiming to be an LSE doctoral student in history.
BBC director of programming Ceri Thomas insisted that genuine students on the trip were informed beforehand that a journalist would be travelling with them, and knew the risks.
"We think the risks as we explained them to the students were justified," Thomas said, adding that there were individual and group briefings before they left for Pyongyang.
"But I need to be absolutely clear that 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."
He added that the "North Korea Undercover" programme had been authorised at the highest level of the BBC, saying: "This went right to the top."
In an article on the Times Higher Education website earlier on Monday, LSE director Calhoun warned that the
investigation had left the university's students and staff, and academics generally, "in a very difficult, if not dangerous, position".
"The subterfuge was employed, ironically, because the North Korean government considers BBC and other independent journalists akin to British spies," he wrote.
"The danger now is that the North Koreans, and governments in equally sensitive parts of the world, will think the same of LSE staff and students.
"The entire enterprise was reckless and irresponsible from start to finish, as well as deeply dishonest."
Calhoun said the trip to North Korea appeared to have been planned entirely to facilitate the BBC programme, saying it was not organised or sanctioned by the university, although it was advertised by an LSE student society.
The BBC said it never intended to make reference to the LSE in the programme, and the faces of three students who have since complained will be pixilated in the film.
But Calhoun said details of the trip were always going to leak out.
"The school, and its students, were both kept in the dark and cynically enlisted as cover for an immensely risky exercise by an organisation that should really know better," he wrote.
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