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BBC Tricked: The Yes Men Apologize For Bhopal Tragedy Because Dow Chemical Won't
by repost
Friday Dec 3rd, 2004 9:38 PM
The BBC was forced to issue an apology yesterday after being tricked into airing an interview with a fake chemical industry spokesman who said the US company which now owns Union Carbide accepted responsibility for India's Bhopal disaster.
BBC World broadcast the comments twice by a man identified as Jude Finisterra, who claimed to be representing Dow Chemicals, but later admitted it had been the victim of "an elaborate deception". The hoaxer confessed he was part of a group called the Yes Men, online activists who specialise in creating web parodies of those they resent, including businesses and governments.

The tricksters went after Dow two years ago over the Bhopal disaster, which happened 20 years ago yesterday. More than 3,500 people died after lethal gas escaped from a Bhopal chemical plant, which was owned by Union Carbide, now a Dow subsidiary. Dow said that it bore no responsibility for one of the world's worst industrial disasters. A Dow spokeswoman in Switzerland confirmed the BBC report was wrong and that the man was not a Dow employee. Other news organisations, including Reuters, reported Finisterra's comments to the BBC but issued corrections after the hoax was revealed.

In a statement read out during a subsequent news bulletin, the BBC said: "We apologise to Dow and to anyone who watched the interview who may have been misled by it. 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 Finisterra, who was listed there as a company spokesman, the BBC said. The interview was conducted in Paris.

"The individual was contacted by the BBC and, during a series of phone calls, claimed that there would be a significant announcement to be made on behalf of the Dow Chemical company. He gave no further detail until the live interview. The person did not represent the company and we want to make it clear that the information he gave was entirely inaccurate."

Finisterra, whose identity could not be confirmed, later told BBC's Radio 4 he was part of the group, Yes Men. He said: "I was speaking on behalf of Dow in a certain way. I was expressing what they should express. 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 heard Bhopal residents broke down in tears when they learnt of the report and that he felt bad about it. He could face legal action if tracked down. The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed charges against individuals who have issued fraudulent statements about companies.

The man said Dow now accepted responsibility for the Dec. 3, 1984, accident in Bhopal, which killed 10,000 people, and would pay billions of dollars in compensation.

Michigan-based Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide in 2001. Both Union Carbide and Dow have denied responsibility for the gas leak. In 1989, Union Carbide paid $470 million in a settlement with India's government.

Later, the man calling himself Finisterra told BBC radio that he was a member of the Yes Men, a group that has carried out hoaxes on businesses and public figures in the past.

The BBC retracted the initial report and said it had been the victim of an "elaborate deception." It said it had apologized to Dow Chemical and begun an inquiry.

The broadcaster said in a written statement that it had been contacted by a man who "during a series of phone calls, claimed that there would be a significant announcement to be made on behalf of the Dow Chemical company."

"He gave no further detail until the live interview, broadcast from the BBC's Paris bureau this morning," the BBC said.

The story was repeated on the BBC's domestic news channel and radio and picked up by other British media outlets.

On 3rd December 1984

Shortly after midnight poison gas leaked from a factory in Bhopal, India, owned by the Union Carbide Corporation. There was no warning, none of the plant's safety systems were working. In the city people were sleeping. They woke in darkness to the sound of screams with the gases burning their eyes, noses and mouths. They began retching and coughing up froth streaked with blood. Whole neighbourhoods fled in panic, some were trampled, others convulsed and fell dead. People lost control of their bowels and bladders as they ran. Within hours thousands of dead bodies lay in the streets. Read a survivor's account of "that night".

BHOPAL: A hoax played on the BBC that US giant Dow Chemical was to pay $12 billion (BD4.5bn) to those maimed in the world's worst industrial disaster was slammed yesterday as "cruel" in this city where thousands died.The British broadcaster had interviewed a man alleging to be a Dow Chemical spokesman who announced the US giant had done an about-face and was taking full responsibility for the Bhopal gas leak on the day of the 20th anniversary.

Dow Chemical would start a $12-billion fund "to finally at long last fully compensate the victims including the 120,000 who may need medical care", the speaker, who called himself Jude Finisterra, told the BBC.

Two hours later the BBC issued a statement admitting it had been taken in by an "elaborate deception".

BBC World said earlier in the day the interview took place in Paris.

"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," he vowed.

Thousands were killed instantly on December 3, 1984 when a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal disgorged 40 tonnes of lethal methyl isocyanate gas into the air, while thousands more died in the aftermath of the disaster.

Dow Chemical, which took over Union Carbide, has long insisted that all liabilities regarding the gas leak have been settled with the Indian government.

Survivors of the gas tragedy staged a series of angry protests and a march to mark the anniversary of the accident.

Activists who have for years battled for medical care and financial compensation for the victims, meanwhile, organised a photo exhibition and burnt effigies representing the US company which owned the killer pesticide plant.

Separately, local government officials paid tribute to victims of the disaster, laying flowers at an impromptu memorial and observing a few moments silence before attending an prayer meeting.

At Bhopal's main Shahjahani park, an exhibition of photographs taken soon after the gas billowed from the Union Carbide plant on December 3, 1984, drew large crowds.

The crowd - spanning all ages of Indian society - shouted and waved signs as they walked through Bhopal's streets.

"Never again should a Bhopal happen anywhere in the world," Balkrishna Namdev, a rights activist, told the crowd that gathered outside the graffiti-covered walls of the abandoned Union Carbide factory. "However long it takes, our struggles to get justice will go on."
by more
Friday Dec 3rd, 2004 9:39 PM
WITHIN HOURS of BBC quoting a self-styled spokesperson of Dow Chemical on the firm's $ 12 billion relief package for Bhopal gas victims, the Michigan-based company let it be known it was all a hoax.

The spokesperson - identified by BBC as Jude Finisterra - is not a Dow employee at all. A little earlier in the day, BBC World had aired an interview with Finisterra, who grandly announced that the US giant was assuming full responsibility for Bhopal and readying a $ 12 billion compensation package.

Dow reacted.. It said it did not have any spokesman or employee by that name. BBC quickly retracted, saying: "This information was inaccurate, part of an elaborate deception."

The interview with the purported spokesman had taken place in Paris and it was broadcast on the 20th anniversary of the disaster, a day when thousands of survivors and their well-wishers had gathered for a solemn event in Bhopal.

"We apologise to Dow and to anyone who watched the interview who may have been misled by it. Of course, the BBC is investigating how the deception happened," the network said in a statement.
In the US, activists of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) were intrigued for a while as the "incredible news" was aired just when batches of Indian students were gearing up for their campaign to target Dow on university campuses.,0015002000000000.htm
by Common Dreams
Saturday Dec 4th, 2004 12:34 AM
In Frankfurt, Dow's share price fell 4.24 percent in 23 minutes, wiping $2 billion off its market value. In three hours it had recovered all the day's losses, Reuters said.

In India, the original report spread like wildfire, causing great elation. When it proved to be a hoax, it elicited disappointment and anger.

Author Dominic LaPierre, who has been fighting for Bhopal victims, strongly denounced the bogus spokesman for providing "false hope" to the victims of the tragedy.

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

Earlier, the BBC said the interview had taken place in Paris. It was aired on the 20th anniversary of the disaster, when thousands of people died after a gas leak at a chemical plant in Bhopal, India.

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

"This morning at 9 and 10 a.m. 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."

A Dow spokeswoman said Finisterra was not a Dow employee or spokesperson, Reuters reported.

Dow issued a statement saying: "This morning a false statement was carried by BBC World regarding responsibility for the Bhopal tragedy by an individual identifying himself as a Dow spokesman. Dow confirms there was no basis whatsoever for this report. BBC World has been informed of this error."

In the false report, the man told the BBC that Dow had taken responsibility for the disaster and was setting up a $12 billion fund "to finally, at long last, fully compensate the victims, including the 120,000 who may need medical care for their entire lives, and to fully and swiftly remediate the Bhopal site."

The man also said the company "resolved to liquidate Union Carbide, this nightmare for the world and this headache for Dow, and use the $12 billion to provide more than $500 per victim, which is all that they've seen."

Had they been true, the man's statements would have marked a major reversal for Dow, which has said it has no responsibility for the Bhopal disaster.
by Finisterra’s Lesson
Sunday Dec 5th, 2004 9:54 AM
Corporate Responsibility
Finisterra’s Lesson

by Binu Mathew December 05, 2004

The 20th anniversary of Bhopal gas tragedy, the worst industrial disaster in history was a day of embarrassment for Dow chemicals, the present owner of Union Carbide and the major news media around the world.

It all began with a cruel joke the BBC played on the hapless victims of the tragedy and their families. In an embarrassing goof up BBC awarded $ 12 billion compensation for the victims and an unbelievable announcement from Dow chemicals that they are “taking full responsibility” for the tragedy.

At 9 GMT, (and at) 10 GMT, BBC World ran an interview with a man called Jude Finisterra, who claimed that he was a spoke person for Dow chemicals. What he said in the interview was more than anything the victims ever dreamt in their wildest dreams. He said Dow will own up the responsibility of the disaster, clean up the area of the disaster which is still threateningly toxic, and will immediately pay out a compensation of $12 billion. As soon as the BBC broke the story satellite channels in India were running this big newsbreak as the top story and there was cheer in the streets of Bhopal. Even the Reuters carried the story quoting BBC.

The cheer in Bhopal was short lived. Soon Dow was out on the street doing some emergency fire fighting. Dow’s spoke person Marina Ashanin was quick to clarify "Dow confirms there was no basis whatsoever for this report ". "We also confirm Jude Finisterra is neither an employee nor a spokesperson for Dow." Ashanin stressed that there was no change in Dow’s position on Bhopal.

Dow, which bought Union Carbide three years ago, has always maintained it "has no responsibility" for the Bhopal tragedy on December 3, 1984, in which nearly 40 tonnes of highly toxic methyl isocyanate escaped from a storage vat of the Union Carbide factory, and killed at least 15,000 men, women and children and ruined the lives of half a million more.

Even on the tragedy’s sensitive 20th anniversary, and with a public vigil vilifying Dow and Union Carbide underway on the faraway streets of Bhopal, the company continued to remind the world it "never owned or operated the Bhopal plant". And it refused to bend even slightly to demands by many, including most recently, Amnesty International, that it show a little compassion for the victims.

Over a telephonic interview with Rashmee Z Ahmed of Times Of India Dow’s spoke person said it had "philanthropic initiatives in India,” but these were just the same as "elsewhere around the world in communities where we live and work."

"These initiatives are not specific to Bhopal as we do not own or operate a facility there," it added.

But the company said even though it was not responsible for the disaster, it still remembered that "day (December 3, 1984) well and the following days, when several thousand people died."

It said the only good to come out of Bhopal was that "the chemical industry learned and grew - creating Responsible Care (a code of conduct and practice for chemical producers) with its strengthened focus on process safety standards, emergency preparedness, and community awareness."

Jude Finisterra’s bold subversion of the media on the 20th anniversary of Bhopal disaster once again forced Dow to announce to the world the gross injustice it is committing to the victims and reiterate that it will not change it’s position in the near future. It was a game that was played out by the rules of the corporate press. Whoever Jude Finiesterra is, it was a game that the world loved, it helped to bring to the world’s notice corporate irresponsibility in the face of public opinion.

Finisterra’s compensation amount of $12 billion is a reminder to the shameless sell out government of India made with Union Carbide. In an out of court damage settlement reached between Government of India and UCC on December 14, 1989, both parties agreed to an amount of $ 470 million as damages to the disaster.The first suit filed by Melvin Belli, an American lawyer, claimed damages upto $15 billion. Later the Indian Government arrogating itself the sole power to represent all the victims, filed a suit for $3.3 billion. Four years after filing the suit and without informing the victims, the government settled for nearly one-seventh of the original claim. Of the $470 million settlement $200 million was covered by UCC's insurance and another $200 million had already been put aside. Out of an annual revenue of $8 billion a year, the corporation had to find just $70 million to close the books.

The settlement clearly shows a double standard in treating victims of industrial disasters in India and elsewhere. Union Carbide and eight other companies paid US $ 4.2 billion as potential damages for Silicone Breast Implants to 650,000 claimants. This amount was 9 times more than what the Bhopal victims were given and less than a 10th of the $5 billion court award against Exon Valdez for polluting the Alaskan coast. Approximately US $ 40,000 was spent on the rehabilitation of every sea otter affected by the Alaska oil spill. Each sea otter was given rations of lobsters costing US $ 500 per day. Thus the life of an Indian citizen in Bhopal was clearly much cheaper than that of a sea otter in America. If the award amount of $470 million where distributed equally among all the victims of Bhopal disaster each would get around only $200.

Many of the people did not get even that much relief. More than 250,000 claims were never documented or classified, making it hard for these victims to obtain compensation. The largest amount paid for death was around $ 2,000. Many of the victims in the gas tragedy were poor, illiterate people. They had no idea of compensation or the importance of keeping records. When the government agencies demanded documents, they had nothing to provide. And some who had documents lost it in the 1992 Hindu - Muslim riot. There is no provision for providing compensation for severely affected children who are born after the disaster.

Finisterra also takes our attention to another important issue, the responsibility of Dow to clean up the disaster site. Amnesty international in a recent report said toxic material continued to contaminate water supplies around the plant site. "The site has not been cleaned up so toxic wastes continue to pollute the water which the surrounding communities rely on." There are reports that mercury is lying on the ground inside the site.

Twenty years ago this day, dead bodies were being piled up on the streets of Bhopal, or were piled up on funeral pyres. Today Hundreds of thousands of the survivors are suffering breathing problems, eye diseases, damaged immune systems, nerve damage, memory loss, cancer, miscarriages, gynecological problems, impaired mental health and social exclusion. Families are plunged into debt because of the inability of the breadwinner to work full time due to health damage from the leak, and families who had since moved into the area were reporting health problems from drinking the water. Now we need the likes of Jude Finisterra to remind the world the lessons of corporate responsibility and natural justice.
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