The BBC apologised today after being hoaxed into carrying a report on its World television service that a compensation fund had been set of for survivors of the Bhopal disaster 20 years ago today.
The report which briefly raised the hopes of people in the central Indian city where 15,000 people have died following the release of pesticide gas from a US owned plant on December 3 1984
A man, claiming to be a spokesman for Dow Chemicals, who now own Union Carbide the company that operated the plant 20 years ago, told a reporter that it accepted full responsibility for the disaster would pay 12 billion dollars in compensation
Dow immediately denied the report and the BBC said: “This interview was inaccurate, part of an elaborate deception.”
“We apologise to Dow and to anyone who watched the interview who may have been misled by it,” the BBC said in a statement read out during a later news bulletin. “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 Jude Finisterra, who was listed there as a company spokesman, the BBC said.
The information given during the interview “was inaccurate, part of an elaborate deception“, the BBC said. “The person did not represent the company and we want to make it clear that the information he gave was entirely inaccurate.”
Finisterra later told BBC’s Radio 4 he was part of the group Yes Men, which hoaxes businesses and governments .
“I was speaking on behalf of Dow in a certain way. I was expressing what they should express,” he said. “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 had heard Bhopal residents broke down in tears when they learned of the report, and he felt bad about it.
“This is an unfortunate result that we did anticipate might happen,” he said.
In Bhopal today, about 1,500 demonstrators and survivors marched through the streets, demanding justice for those still suffering the effects of the world’s worst industrial disaster.
The crowd – spanning all ages of Indian society – shouted and waved signs as they walked through Bhopal’s streets not far from the remains of the pesticide plant that leaked the gas over the city killing up to 15,000 people over the years.
“Never again should a Bhopal happen anywhere in the world,” they said.
Despite today’s flurry of international attention, few people in Bhopal believed the victims would be remembered very long once the television crews, journalists and organisers left.
“This has become an annual drama. Every year, we march, we shout slogans and we burn an effigy. Nothing comes of it. Our suffering remains the same,” said Ram Pyari, who lost her husband and two sons in the disaster.
Certainly, public outrage appears to be dimming.
Organisers had predicted a turnout of several thousand people, but in the end only about 1,500 came, said Hari Narayan, a local police officer.
In other parts of the city, life went on as usual.