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BBC apologises for bogus Bhopal interview
By James Burleigh
04 December 2004
The BBC was forced to issue an apology yesterday after being tricked into airing an interview with a fake chemical industry spokesman who said the US company which now owns Union Carbide accepted responsibility for India's Bhopal disaster.
BBC World broadcast the comments twice by a man identified as Jude Finisterra, who claimed to be representing Dow Chemicals, but later admitted it had been the victim of "an elaborate deception". The hoaxer confessed he was part of a group called the Yes Men, online activists who specialise in creating web parodies of those they resent, including businesses and governments.
The tricksters went after Dow two years ago over the Bhopal disaster, which happened 20 years ago yesterday. More than 3,500 people died after lethal gas escaped from a Bhopal chemical plant, which was owned by Union Carbide, now a Dow subsidiary. Dow said that it bore no responsibility for one of the world's worst industrial disasters. A Dow spokeswoman in Switzerland confirmed the BBC report was wrong and that the man was not a Dow employee. Other news organisations, including Reuters, reported Finisterra's comments to the BBC but issued corrections after the hoax was revealed.
In a statement read out during a subsequent news bulletin, the BBC said: "We apologise to Dow and to anyone who watched the interview who may have been misled by it. Of course, the BBC is investigating how the deception happened."
In preparing for reports about the anniversary of the disaster, BBC reporters visited what they thought was Dow's website and contacted Finisterra, who was listed there as a company spokesman, the BBC said. The interview was conducted in Paris.
"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. The person did not represent the company and we want to make it clear that the information he gave was entirely inaccurate."
Finisterra, whose identity could not be confirmed, later told BBC's Radio 4 he was part of the group, Yes Men. He said: "I was speaking on behalf of Dow in a certain way. I was expressing what they should express. I have enough connection with Dow as everybody else on the planet. I use many of their products."
Finisterra, who said the group would strike again, said he heard Bhopal residents broke down in tears when they learnt of the report and that he felt bad about it. He could face legal action if tracked down. The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed charges against individuals who have issued fraudulent statements about companies.