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Dow Chemical Company



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BBC Falls Prey to Hoax on Anniversary of Bhopal Disaster


Published: December 4, 2004

reat Britain"/>LONDON, Dec. 3 - The BBC, Britain's public service broadcaster, acknowledged Friday that it had been tricked into broadcasting an interview with a man pretending to be a spokesman for Dow Chemical, who claimed that the company had taken the blame for the disaster in Bhopal, India, in 1984.

The hoax, contradicting Dow Chemical's rejection of any responsibility, came on the 20th anniversary of the catastrophe, when waves of lethal gas escaped from a chemical plant in Bhopal, in central India, killing more than 3,500 people and injuring thousands more. At the time, the plant was owned by the Union Carbide Corporation, which was taken over by Dow Chemical Company three years ago. Survivors have long complained that they have received inadequate compensation.


The interview with the fake spokesman was broadcast less than a year after an official inquiry criticized the BBC for inaccurate reporting and "defective" editorial supervision in asserting that Prime Minister Tony Blair and his aides had exaggerated the case for war in Iraq. Two of the broadcaster's top managers quit as a result of that inquiry.

The BBC is also midway through a government review of its operations, carried out once every 10 years in preparation for the renewal of the Royal Charter under which it operates. The interview was broadcast on BBC World, a 24-hour television news channel broadcast globally. Twice on Friday, the channel broadcast the interview with a man identifying himself as Jude Finisterra, who said Dow Chemical had agreed to set up a $12 billion compensation fund, apparently reversing its previous insistence that such liabilities had been settled by Union Carbide before Dow took over the company.

Later in the day, the BBC said in a statement that the interview was "part of an elaborate deception." "The person did not represent the company," it said, "and we want to make it clear that the information he gave was entirely inaccurate."

"We apologize to Dow and to anyone who watched the interview who may have been misled by it," the statement said. "Of course, the BBC is investigating how the deception happened."

Dow Chemical also said that Mr. Finisterra was not a company employee.

Friday evening, BBC World reported that reporters preparing for the anniversary of the Bhopal disaster had gotten contact information for Mr. Finisterra on what appeared to be Dow Chemical's Web site.

The person who identified himself as Mr. Finisterra had told the reporters there would be a significant announcement and offered to travel from Paris to London for an interview. Instead, the BBC set up a two-way interview, with the interviewer in London and the interviewee in a BBC studio in Paris.

"He was incredibly plausible," a BBC executive said on condition of anonymity.

In a separate BBC interview on a lunchtime radio news show after the hoax was uncovered, the same man said he represented an organization called "The Yes Men," whose Web site ( says it engages in "identity correction."

"Honest people impersonate big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them," the Web site says. "Targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else."

The man identified as Mr. Finisterra told BBC Radio that he was speaking "in a certain way" for Dow Chemical by setting out "the only reasonable thing for Dow Chemical to do."

.Bhopal Victims Not Fully Paid, Rights Group Says (November 30, 2004) 
.World Business Briefing | Asia: India: Bhopal Extradition Sought  (July 3, 2003) 
.Compressed Data; Bhopal Critics in Web Hoax Against Dow Chemical  (December 9, 2002)  $
.Bhopal Seethes, Pained and Poor 18 Years Later  (September 21, 2002)  $
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