Broadcaster to launch inquiry after falling for Bhopal hoax

By Stephanie Kirchgaessner and David Firn
The Financial Times
Published: December 4 2004 02:00 | Last updated: December 4 2004 02:00

The BBC said it would launch an internal investigation into a report it
broadcast yesterday morning in which a man purporting to work for Dow
Chemical claimed the company would take responsibility for the Bhopal
tragedy and was setting up a $12bn (6.2bn) compensation fund for

The hoax, which involved a live interview with a man posing as a Dow
spokesperson, ran twice on BBC World yesterday and was retracted later in
the day by the news organisation.

"This interview was inaccurate, part of an elaborate deception," the BBC
said in statement.

The blunder raises fresh questions about the BBC's commitment to careful
scrutiny of the accuracy of its reporting less than one year after the
release of the Hutton report, which was intensely critical of the news
group's editorial standards.

The error also provided the BBC with an unwelcome reminder of the dangers of
the use of live and unscripted two-way interviews - a technique the BBC was
urged to avoid following a review of its editorial standards by Ronald Neil,
former director of BBC News and Current Affairs.

A person familiar with how the Bhopal report was prepared by the BBC said a
London-based researcher had contacted the fake Dow employee - who called
himself Jude Finesterra - after finding his name and number on a Dow website
that had been either hacked or "mirrored". The BBC then arranged the
interview with Mr Finesterra and was told by the prankster that he had
"something significant" to say during the live broadcast - though he was not
prepared to reveal details before going on air.

Dow yesterday said its website had never been penetrated by hackers, but
fake or mirror sites set up by pressure groups were "not uncommon".

The US company also said it was considering launching a formal complaint
under a new system set up by the BBC in the wake of the David Kelly affair.

"No one at Dow was contacted prior to this story . . . We have higher
expectations of journalists," said Terri McNeill, a Dow spokeswoman.

Twenty years ago, a leak of methyl isocyanate gas from a Bhopal factory
owned by Union Carbide, a Dow subsidiary, killed more than 7,000 people. Up
to 15,000 are estimated to have died since from respiratory problems,
breakdown of immune systems, breast and cervical cancer and neurological
disorders caused by the gas.

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