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BBC World TV hit by Bhopal hoax
By Stephanie Kirchgaessner and David Firn in London
Published: December 3 2004 16:32 | Last updated: December 3 2004 16:32

BBC World television said on Friday it was investigating how it had been duped into running an interview on the aftermath of the 1984 Bhopal disaster with a hoaxer claiming to be a spokesman for Dow Chemical.

During the interview, a man purporting to work for Dow Chemical claimed the company would take responsibility for the Bhopal tragedy and was setting up a $12bn compensation fund for victims. The interview ran twice on BBC World and was retracted later in the day by the news organisation.

“This interview was inaccurate, part of an elaborate deception,” the BBC said in statement.

The blunder raised fresh questions over the BBC’s accuracy less than one year after the release of the Hutton report on the suicide of David Kelly, a government scientist, in the run-up to war in Iraq, which was intensely critical of the news group’s editorial standards.

The error also provided the BBC with an unwelcome reminder of the dangers of the use of live and unscripted two-way interviews - a technique that the BBC was urged to avoid following a review of its editorial standards by Ronald Neil, former director of BBC News and Current Affairs.

A person familiar with how the Bhopal interview was prepared by the BBC said a London-based researcher had contacted the fake Dow employee - who called himself Jude Finesterra - after finding his name and number on a puported Dow website that had been either hacked or “mirrored”.

The BBC then arranged the interview and was told by the prankster that he had “something significant” to say during the live broadcast - though he was not prepared to reveal details before going on air.

A man identifying himself as Finisterra later told BBC’s domestic Radio 4 news that he was part of the group Yes Men, which which has set up bogus Dow websites in the past.

Dow said on Friday it was considering launching a formal complaint under a new system set up by the BBC in the wake of the David Kelly affair.

“No one at Dow was contacted prior to this story. . . We have higher expectations of journalists,” said Terri McNeill, a Dow spokeswoman.

Twenty-years ago, a leak of methyl isocyanate gas from a factory owned by a Dow subsidiary, Union Carbide, killed thousands of people and burned the name of Bhopal into the world’s environmental conscience.

More than 7,000 people died in the world’s worst industrial accident, and up to 15,000 are estimated to have died since from respiratory problems, breakdown of immune systems, breast and cervical cancer and neurological disorders caused by the gas.

The BBC said a report would be made about the hoax to Mark Byford, its deputy director-general.

The claimed surname of the hoaxer, Finisterra, combines the Latin words for “end” and “world”.

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