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BBC’s footage on Indian child labour ruled fake

world Updated: Jun 17, 2011 23:12 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

The governing body of the British Broadcasting Corporation has ruled that a flagship investigative reporting programme faked footage of children stitching garments in a Bengaluru workshop and called upon it to return an award won by the programme.

The broadcaster said it will air an on-screen apology after the BBC Trust ruled that the footage — shown in a June 2008 Panorama film claiming Indian suppliers to the clothes chain Primark used child labour — was not genuine. The ruling comes as a major blow to the BBC.

The Trust’s editorial standards committee said, “Having scrutinised all of the relevant evidence, the committee concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, it was more likely than not that the Bangalore footage was not authentic.”

It apologised on behalf of the BBC for “serious failings in the making of the programme.” The trust, headed by Oxford University chancellor and former Tory minister Sir Christopher Patten, urged the BBC to “consider its position” over a prestigious Royal Television Society award won by the documentary in 2009.

The film, titled Primark — On the Rack, included purported undercover footage of three boys in a Bengaluru clothing workshop apparently “testing the stitching” on Primark vest tops to make sure that sequins would not fall off.

Primark, whose 220 stores worldwide include 152 in Britain, welcomed the ruling that came at the end of a three-year-long investigation, saying "Panorama simply did not find child labour involved in the Primark supply chain as the programme sought to suggest but relied on fabricated footage to air a programme otherwise based on prejudice.”

Hitting back, the company’s website put up its own ‘investigative’ video that claimed that the programme’s investigative reporter, Dan McDougall, bought the vest tops from a supplier in Pollachi, near the textile hub of Tirupur in Tamil Nadu, on February 24, 2008.

McDougall then took the garments to the Bengaluru workshop the next day and asked the three boys to pretend as if they were working on them, the film claims.

One of the boys identifies McDougall from a photograph as the man who handed them the three garments. Another says they were instructed to “move your hand on this.” All three said the only work they did — for an Indian retailer — from February to April 2008 was to embroider women’s chappals.

McDougall said he was “appalled by the (trust’s) decision,” adding, “I have rarely seen a finding so unjust in outcome, flawed in process, and deeply damaging to independent investigative journalism.”