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Last Updated: Friday, 23 January, 2004, 16:45 GMT
Bin Laden hoax backfires in Lebanon
By Sebastian Usher
BBC News

A spoof newsflash by a TV station in Lebanon saying that Osama Bin Laden had been captured in the northern city of Tripoli was taken more seriously than the programme-makers had expected.

Osama Bin Laden
Arabic TV stations have aired several 'Bin Laden' tapes
Despite several clues onscreen that the bulletin was a joke, the LBC station was inundated with calls.

The rumour of Bin Laden's capture temporarily overshadowed a meeting between the Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, and the Greek President, Costas Stefanopoulos.

After the programme, Lebanon's media watchdog convened an urgent meeting to look into the incident.

'Lie TV'

Lebanese viewers watching LBC's weekly satirical show Bass Mat Watan on Thursday evening could have been be forgiven for choking on their snacks as the programme was interrupted by breaking news.

One of the station's most respected news presenters, Bassam Abou Zeid, solemnly informed viewers that a major security operation was under way in Tripoli.

He said there was an attempt in progress to arrest one of the Arab world's most important and wanted figures.

A few minutes later, he reappeared to report that Bin Laden had just been arrested in the house of a former prime minister.

The station received a number of worried calls and the report was suddenly the main topic amongst the guests at the dinner Mr Hariri was hosting for Mr Stephanopoulos.

All this despite the fact that LBC had given something of a clue to the true nature of the broadcast - with the word "Live" on screen being written "Lie".

But not everyone got the message - one viewer even called the station to correct their spelling.

Bad joke

At the end of the programme, Bassam Abou Zeid appeared one more time to say it was all a joke.

A bad one, according to many newspapers in Lebanon.

A paper owned by Mr Hariri - who also owns LBC's main competitor, Future TV - called the joke irresponsible.

A source at LBC said the programme on which the spoof occurred is likely to be suspended.

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