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Bhopal anguish as BBC hoaxed
By Robin Gedye
(Filed: 04/12/2004)

The BBC was forced to apologise yesterday for a story claiming that tens of thousands of victims of the Bhopal gas disaster and their families would receive compensation from a $12 billion fund.

A man purporting to speak for the Dow Chemical company told the BBC that its Union Carbide subsidiary, which owned the chemical plant when the gas leak killed 3,500 people immediately and later up to 15,000, would be liquidated and the proceeds used for compensation.

Farida Bee, Bhopal victim
Farida Bee, 71, Bhopal victim

The BBC had been seeking to mark the 20th anniversary of the world's worst industrial accident and had contacted what they believed was a Dow Chemical spokesman via a name and telephone number on what appeared to be the industrial giant's website.

A man calling himself Jude Finisterra was contacted and interviewed live.

The programme was aired twice on BBC World and followed up on Radio 4 and BBC News 24 causing Dow Chemical's shares to fall 3.4 per cent in Frankfurt before it was discovered that the whole thing was a hoax.

Senior BBC journalists conceded that an initial admiration for the elaborate hoax was rapidly dispelled amid reports that euphoria in Bhopal's ravaged community when the fictitious report broke turned to tears and anger within hours.

It appears that Mr Finisterra, part of an anti-corporate protest group called The Yes Men had created a fake Dow Chemicals website.

Asked about the reaction in Bhopal when the residents heard the first broadcast, Andy Bichlbaum, a Yes Men spokesman and believed to be Finisterra, told Channel 4 News: "We may have given them two hours of false hope but Dow have been giving them that for 20 years."

Union Carbide, bought by Dow Chemicals in 2001, paid $470 million to the Indian government in 1989 as a legal settlement. Much of it remains tied up by bureaucracy.

2 December 2004: Bhopal is still suffering after 20 years
21 November 2004: Twenty years on and Bhopal still bears the scars of disaster

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