The BBC has admitted that footage of an impressive volcanic eruption, which was screened as part of its natural history series, Patagonia: Earth’s Secret Paradise last month, is a fake.
The footage aired on September 25 showed a violent Calbuco volcano in Chile spewing thick clouds of ash while incessant lightning flashed around the super-charged cloud.
The scene was created by mixing two separate eruptions from two separate volcanoes together, one of which was captured in 2011 and the other in 2015. It has now emerged that while the ash clouds were original, the lightning flashes were spliced from a 2011 video of another volcano eruption in Chile captured by an award-winning Chilean photographer.
This mixing resulted in a dramatic video which became a YouTube sensation overnight.
BBC’s initial tweet showing the eruption was retweeted more than 1,000 times and its Facebook post was shared more than 500,000 times and liked 300,000 times. The video was so successful on social media that BBC took to Twitter to boast its virality with this tweet on October 2.
According to The Guardian, many senior BBC executives must have viewed and okayed the ‘mixing’ as Patagonia is BBC’s flagship series, thus making this controversy more damaging.
“If we falsify one scene, who is going to believe anything else in that programme or, for that matter, any other film that we produce,” a staff member working at the BBC’s natural history unit, which made the series, told The Observer.
After questioned by The Observer to explain the fakery, Tuppence Stone, producer of the programme in question, wrote a blog explaining how the volcano was captured.
“While these events happen naturally, they can be difficult to see with the naked eye or be captured on a single camera. It requires special techniques to reveal and portray their true extraordinary nature. The strikes are too quick to register. And while long exposure still photographs can capture lightning strikes, they can’t adequately convey the dynamic force of the eruption, since they blur the fast moving ash cloud,” Stone wrote in the blog.
“We took timelapse images from the Calbuco volcano filmed in early 2015 and the lightning shots were superimposed onto the erupting cloud. The lightning shots were taken by an award-winning Chilean photographer, of a nearby Patagonian volcano, Cordón Caulle four years earlier during its eruption, using long exposure techniques. The Cordón Caulle volcano eruption was a very similar event to the Calbuco volcano this year,” Stone reasoned.
The BBC also issued a separate statement which said it should have made it clear that its natural history unit had manipulated a key scene.
“In order to show viewers the extraordinary spectacle of a dirty thunderstorm with lightning flashes that would be impossible to capture in a single camera, a composite image was put together from footage from two Patagonian volcanoes. However, we recognise that this should have been made clear and so have published a blogpost to explain the techniques used,” said the BBC.
Such accusations are not new to the BBC. In 2011, it was accused of faking a polar bear giving birth in the wild while it was actually filmed in a zoo.