The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bhopal hoax leaves BBC squirming

London, Dec. 4: The BBC was left with egg on its face today after broadcasting an interview with a hoaxer who announced that victims of the Bhopal disaster would be given a $12-billion compensation package.

It turned out that the hoaxer or hoaxers, who 'captured' the official Dow Chemical website ' this is the company which took over Union Carbide ' offered what appeared a plausible and legitimate media link to someone called Jude Finisterra.

Interviews with Finisterra were broadcast live on the BBC channels, BBC World and BBC News 24, and BBC Radio 4 also led its 10 am news with him.

The BBC has marked the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster with saturation coverage, broadcasting dramatised documentaries on both television and radio.

Many Indians in Britain have felt that although such an appalling industrial tragedy could not be ignored, perhaps the BBC was trying to make the point that India, despite its pretensions, remained an unreformed Third World country. One explanation might be that the BBC badly wanted to believe the story.

Today, the BBC was conducting an inquiry how the corporation, which prides itself on being the world's leading broadcaster, got it so badly wrong.

One BBC insider expressed concern that if hackers could capture the official websites of leading organisations and companies, journalists would need to rethink their whole news gathering strategy.

On this occasion, it seems a BBC researcher logged on to the Dow Chemical website and came up with Jude Finisterra's name. He was interviewed in Paris and spun out an elaborate story about how Dow Chemical accepted full responsibility for what had happened in Bhopal.

BBC executives accept that 'great joy' in India was followed quickly by 'huge disappointment'. However, the BBC stopped short of apologising to the victims of Bhopal.

In a formal statement today, the BBC said that it had 'moved swiftly to retract a live interview with an individual claiming to be a spokesman for Dow Chemicals. In the interview, the individual admitted responsibility for the Bhopal disaster.'

The BBC said: 'The interview, an elaborate deception, was carried live on BBC World and subsequently on BBC News 24 and BBC Radio. The individual was contacted by the BBC and, during a series of phone calls, claimed that there would be a significant announcement to be made on behalf of the Dow Chemical company. He gave no further detail until the live interview, broadcast from the BBC's Paris bureau this morning.'

The statement also said: 'Following further internal enquiries, the BBC realised that the interview was a deception and broadcast the following statement, 'This morning at 9.00 and 10.00 am (GMT), BBC World ran an interview with someone purporting to be from the Dow Chemical company about Bhopal. This interview was inaccurate, part of an elaborate deception. The person did not represent the company and we want to make clear that the information he gave was entirely inaccurate.'

The BBC added: 'The BBC also immediately contacted Dow Chemicals and apologised to them. The BBC is looking into the incident to establish the background and how the interview got to air. A report will be made to the BBC's deputy director-general, Mark Byford.'

A Dow spokeswoman, speaking from Switzerland, told BBC World that Finisterra was not a Dow employee.

'Dow confirms there was no basis whatsoever for this report,' Marina Ashanin said. 'We also confirm Jude Finisterra is neither an employee nor a spokesperson for Dow.'

The BBC was tonight going ahead with its plans to broadcast a fictionalised account of Bhopal.

The programme was 'a drama-documentary to mark one of the most catastrophic man-made disasters the world has seen. On the night of 3 December 1984, poison gas leaked from a factory in Bhopal, India, owned by the Union Carbide Corporation.

The story is told in the form of a poem written and performed by Avae Mohammed, and a drama, Chitra, written by Tanika Gupta.

The actors include Yasmin Wilde, Jatinder Purewal, Rahual Das, Marc Anwar, Richard Sumitro, Bina Patel, and Sushil Chudasama. Music by Jaydev Mistry. Producer/director Sue Roberts.

People were urged to 'see also Bhopal: An Accident Waiting to Happen, on Monday 6 December at 8.00 pm.'

So far, the BBC has no plans to do a drama documentary on 'How the BBC fell for a hoax: an accident waiting to happen'.

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