Americas News:
BBC hoaxed on Dow Bhopal responsibility story
Poulomi Mrinal Saha
3 Dec 04
The BBC has issued a retraction of an interview aired on BBC World this morning, which purportedly showed a Dow Chemical spokesperson taking responsibility for the Bhopal gas tragedy and promising huge compensation to victims.
The spokesperson, supposedly from the company’s Paris office, claimed that Dow was finally accepting “full responsibility” for the 1984 gas tragedy that took place at its subsidiary, Union Carbide’s plant in the Indian state of Bhopal.

"Today I am very, very happy to announce that today, for the first time Dow is accepting full responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe…this is a momentous occasion," said the person, whom BBC World identified in its report as Dow spokesperson Jude Finisterra.

The fraudulent spokesperson added: “We have resolved to liquidate Union Carbide, this nightmare for the world and this headache for Dow and use the $12 billion to provide more than $500 per victim, which is all that they've seen.”

This money, according to the purported spokesperson, would be used to compensate the victims of the tragedy “including the 120,000 who may need medical care for their entire lives and to fully and swiftly remediate the Bhopal plant site."

The accident

On 3 December 1984, a lethal gas, methyl isocyanate, leaked from Union Carbide’s plant in Bhopal, killing around 2,000 people in its immediate aftermath.

The number has risen to around 15,000 since the tragedy. Many more continue to suffer from the after-effects of the gas leak. Bhopal has been dubbed the world’s worst industrial disaster.

Union Carbide paid $470 million as compensation to the Indian government in 1989, in return for any criminal charges against the company being dropped.

A significant proportion of this money is yet to reach the victims’ families and survivors. Around $320 million of the compensation still sits in the Reserve Bank of India’s accounts, with promises to distribute it falling on cynical ears from survivor campaign groups.

Union Carbide was merged into Dow Chemical in February 2001 and the latter has denied all responsibility for an act committed by a company it did not own or operate at the time.

Activists and survivors continue to fight against the injustice and campaign to bring the perpetrators to court. They demanded the extradition of Union Carbide Chairman William Anderson to India to face criminal charges. The US government rejected this in July this year on technical grounds.

The campaigners also demand a clean up of the Bhopal plant site, which they say continues to remain contaminated. Recent reports have shown that poisonous gases still affect residents.

After much persuasion, the Indian government sent a no objection certificate for this to the New York Federal Court but NGOs such as Greenpeace speculate that a decision is still up to a year away.

Refusing to wait for an answer, the state minister Uma Shankar Gupta said this week that the government would now order a survey into the site to assess the level of contamination prior to a clean up programme.

Greenpeace India spokesperson, Vinuta Gopal, described this is as the “slowest first step in history”. She said that this was a very small gesture compared to twenty years of waiting.

Disappointment in Bhopal

But campaigners were overjoyed after hearing initial reports from the international press about the BBC news story today.

Vinuta Gopal told Ethical Corporation this morning that they had had no first-hand communication from Dow about it but were “positively shocked” and hoped that Dow would act on its promise at the earliest.

Greenpeace activists are currently in Bhopal with other activists groups and local people, attending a rally following a candlelight vigil yesterday to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Bhopal tragedy.

Gopal described survivors as being in tears and hugging each other after initial reports of “compensation and remediation” came in.

When informed later by Ethical Corporation about the hoax, she said she was disappointed. “It was too good to be true,” she noted, but hoped that Dow would take a lesson or two from the hoax proclamations and take responsibility for Union Carbide’s act.

The BBC’s retraction statement, which is available on the BBC World website, said that the interview was “part of an elaborate deception”.

"The person did not represent the company and we want to make it clear that the information he gave was entirely inaccurate," it read.

The retraction was issued after being contacted by Dow, immediately after the report was aired. In an email statement, Union Carbide confirmed that “there was no basis whatsoever for this report…Jude Finisterra is neither an employee nor a spokesperson for Dow."

Speaking to Ethical Corporation, a BBC World media spokesperson refused to comment on either the identity of the impostor, if established, or the nature of the hoax that convinced them about his authenticity.

Be the first to comment by using the form below!
Add Your Comment
You must be a logged in Subscriber to post a Comment
Inside this Issue
Eliot Spitzer:
The world’s regulator of last resort
Europe’s governance crusade
US boost to the Global Reporting Initiative
Newmont battles Indonesia’s NGOs
Turf war among carbon offsetters
Making media responsible
Dealing with Joel Bakan’s 'pathological corporation'
Click The Magazine Cover For More Information!
Latest Issue
Magazine Issue (November)
Technology and CSR Supplement (138x65 - small)
Industry Reports mini-tower
Business and Human Rights Report
EthicalCorp Poll
Who should clean up the Bhopal accident site?
The Indian Government
The Dow Chemical Company
Dow and the Indian Government together