Photo: Channel 7 screengrab
The documentary, filmed and aired by Channel 7 in Australia, showed 23-year-old Australian Zeynab Alshelh wearing a burkini apparently being told to leave the Villeneuve-Loubet beach, where the swimwear had been banned this summer.
“No sooner had they set foot on the French beach than they got a lesson in just how hostile the locals can be towards Muslims,” the narrator says.
A female beach goer is seen giving the camera a “thumbs down” after pointing in what appears to be the direction of the women in burkinis.
A male beach goer approaches the camera and be heard saying in French “You can turn around and leave.”
The burkini-clad woman says to the camera afterwards: “We were threatened by locals to leave the beach and if we didn't then they were going to call the police. They weren't happy with us being there.”
News of what happened made headlines across the world, but then local French newspaper Nice Matin investigated the report and claimed that not all appeared to be as it seemed at first glance.
A witness told the paper that the man who asked them to leave was actually talking to the film crew, not the women.
“Yes, he called the police, but not to get them to chase these people away; instead it was to ask how he could stop them from filming us, and especially our children.
“At no point did anyone come and demand these people leave the beach,” the woman said.
Indeed, the documentary never shows any locals speaking to the burkini-clad women.
Other witnesses pointed out that the incident “smelled of a set up”, noting that the cameras has been stationed long in advance, and also that the Australian family had positioned themselves in the middle of a busy jet ski corridor on the beach, perhaps knowing they would be asked to leave.
Witnesses told the paper that the film crew were using hidden cameras.
The documentary has been criticized by newspapers in Australia too, with The Australian newspaper demanding an apology from the producers of what it called a “cringe worthy report”.
“The Seven Network and the pugnacious Muslim Aussie family it flew to the French Riviera with the aim of provoking beachgoers into a 'racist' reaction to the 'Aussie cossie' burkini owe the traumatised people of Nice and France a swift apology,” the paper reported.
It referred to the beach visit as “an obvious attempt to bait Gallic sun lovers into religious and ethnically motivated hatred”.
The paper called the documentary “an unethical exercise in journalism” that “deliberately painted France as 'hostile to Muslims'”.
The journalist behind the report has since taken to Twitter to call for proof that the channel didn't actually fund the trip for the young woman and her family.
Several papers took aim at whether the Alshelh was flown out to France by the channel, or whether she “flew to France to show her solidarity” as media outlets reported last week.
Alshelh has refused to comment about financing of the trip, rather pointing media in the direction of Channel 7.
She did, however, contradict the script in saying that it was the channel who approached her about the story.
The programme's executive producer Hamish Thompson has “denied emphatically” that there was any set up in an interview with Austrialian newspaper The New Daily.
“Zeynab was bathing at a beach where the burkini is allowed,” he said.
“She sat with her family, away from other bathers, on the beach, where she and her family wanted to swim. Our crew positioned themselves on the edge of the beach, in full view of everyone. No hidden cameras were used, at any time.”
In August, France’s highest court suspended the burkini bans, declaring the swimsuit’s prohibition an “illegal violation of fundamental freedoms”.
The online version of the documentary, which aired last Sunday, is no longer available to watch for those outside of Australia.