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Maker of bogus documentaries convicted

December 24, 1996 GMT

KOBLENZ, Germany (AP) _ A free-lance filmmaker who sold bogus documentaries to German television stations was convicted of fraud Monday and sentenced to four years in prison.

Michael Born used amateur actors and friends to create ``documentaries″ on topics such as the Ku Klux Klan in Germany. Two of Born’s assistants received suspended sentences.

``For Born, journalistic ethics is a foreign word, just like honesty,″ Judge Ulrich Weiland said.

The judge also chided the television stations that bought Born’s films, saying they did not check the material’s authenticity.

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``Greedy for ratings,″ they were easily cheated, Weiland said.

Born’s hoax was one of the biggest scandals to hit the German news media since 1983, when Stern magazine published excerpts of what turned out to be forged diaries of Adolf Hitler.

During the trial, Born admitted faking the segments but said an official at Stern TV, which produces documentaries, encouraged him to do so.

Guenther Jauck, host of the cable television program that showed many of Born’s segments, insisted he did not know that the videotapes had been fabricated.

Born sold at least 22 documentaries to three television networks between 1991 and 1995 and made more than $200,000.

In one of the documentaries, Born had some friends dress up in Ku Klux Klan robes, burn a cross and make anti-Semitic remarks to the camera.

After the documentary was aired, investigators went hunting for what they thought was a local chapter of the white-robed, U.S.-based group. The probe ended up exposing Born’s hoax.

Another Born documentary purported to show a camp in Turkey of the Kurdish Workers’ Party, which has been fighting for an independent homeland. Bearded men were shown building a bomb.

Prosecutors say there wasn’t a bomb and the men weren’t Kurds _ they were Albanian actors. And it was filmed in Greece, not Turkey.

A man who often acted in Born’s documentaries received a seven-month suspended sentence, while a cameraman got a three-month suspended sentence plus a fine of $3,000.