BBC duped by Bhopal hoax

December 4, 2004 - 1:30AM

BBC World said yesterday it was duped in an "elaborate deception" by a man who claimed to be a Dow Chemical Co spokesman and said the US company accepted responsibility for India's Bhopal disaster.

The British news channel, after twice running the interview with a man identified as Jude Finisterra, later said the report was wrong.

A spokeswoman for Dow Chemical in Switzerland also confirmed that the report was wrong.

The man's identity could not be confirmed and his motives were not immediately clear. BBC officials were not readily available for comment but the broadcaster said on air it was trying to determine what happened.

"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 subsequent news bulletin. "Of course, the BBC is investigating how the deception happened."

The statements by the man to the BBC, had they been true, would have marked a major reversal for Dow Chemical, which has said it has no responsibility for the Bhopal disaster two decades ago.

Dow shares declined 3.4 per cent to 37 euros in Frankfurt.

The hoax was slammed as "cruel" in the city where thousands died.

"It is a cruel, cruel hoax to play on the people of Bhopal on the 20th anniversary of this tragedy," said Rachna Dhingra, an activist from the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.

"They have not lost hope; they have been through worse and are going to go through worse. This cannot shake their confidence," Dhingra said.

BBC World said earlier in the day the interview took place in Paris. It was aired on the 20th anniversary of the incident when more than 3,500 people died after lethal gas escaped from a chemical plant in the central Indian city.

"This morning at 9:00 and 10:00am GMT BBC World ran an interview with someone purporting to be from the Dow Chemical Company about Bhopal," the BBC said.

"This information was inaccurate, 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."

The factory was owned by Union Carbide, now a subsidiary of Dow Chemical.

A Dow spokeswoman, speaking from Switzerland, told BBC World that Finisterra was not a Dow employee.

"Dow confirms there was no basis whatsoever for this report," Marina Ashanin said. "We also confirm Jude Finisterra is neither an employee nor a spokesperson for Dow."

"The bottom line is this is not true," a spokesman for Dow Chemical in Zurich told Reuters.

A spokesman for Union Carbide also told Reuters the report was false.

Reuters, AFP