Jail for teller of tall TV stories

A German television reporter with a talent for fairy tales will be spending Christmas in jail for the next four years, imprisoned yesterday for stretching his creative licence too far.

Michael Born, a 38-year-old freelancer, was convicted in his home town of Koblenz of fraud, incitement to racial hatred, cruelty to animals and driving without a permit. He had sold commercial companies at least 16 "documentaries" which had owed more to his fertile imagination than to facts.

His highly praised "report" on a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan terrorising forest folk in the Rhineland might have won a prize, had it not been debunked by a policeman. Born had clad some friends in white tunics and hoods, recorded their anti- Semitic rantings and sprinkled the footage with swastikas.

He also dabbled in man-smuggling, interviewed fictitious terrorist leaders and staged a blood-soaked battle on the Albanian-Greek border.

Confronted with damning evidence during his trial, Born said: "I feel guilty towards the viewers, but not towards the television newsrooms".

His defence rested on thepremise that his customers were aware they were purchasing entertainment, not journalism. Dozens of witnesses testified that the cable and satellite channels competing for Born's business could have checked the veracity of his reports. They did not, because they were scared of losing a "good story".

By implication, the judge, Ulrich Weiland, found the entire industry guilty of fraud. But only Born will pay for the crime. The moguls who financed his antics remain at liberty.