Court hears Nongfu Spring defamation suit

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, November 30, 2013
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A court in Beijing began hearing a lawsuit yesterday in which China's leading drinking water producer is suing the Beijing Times over an alleged monthlong smear campaign.

Zhong Shanshan, chairman of Nongfu Spring. [File photo]

At the same time, the newspaper launched a countersuit claiming defamation.

Nongfu Spring says that its business was damaged by Beijing Times reports that the quality of its barreled water was "even lower than that of tap water."

The water producer, based in Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province, is demanding 200 million yuan (US$32.8 million) in compensation.

The company said it had lost more than 2 billion yuan worth of sales since the newspaper ran a series of articles that ran to 67 pages over a month from April.

The campaign eventually forced the company to suspend barreled water production in Beijing in May, Chaoyang District People's Court heard.

Also named in its lawsuit is the Beijing Association for Barreled Drinking Water, which the paper cited as a source for a report that Nongfu Spring's barreled water was to be withdrawn from shelves in the capital.

The industry body had no right to make any such claim, Nongfu Spring spokesman Zhou Li said when he filed a complaint with China's press watchdog, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, earlier this month.

In its countersuit, the Beijing Times defended its reports and demanded a public apology and token compensation of 1 yuan.

At the center of the row over the quality of Nongfu Spring's water is the Zhejiang standard DB33/383 it follows.

The paper says it is a standard that needs to be updated, while the water producer says it is already stricter than the national standard and will remain so after its revision.

Nongfu Spring said that in addition to meeting the DB33/383 standard, the company also meets the national compulsory safety standard GB19298. The new content to be added into the provincial standard is included in GB19298.

Nongfu Spring also accused the paper of misusing a top leader's speech to add pressure on the company.

Next to a story headlined "Nongfu Spring refuses to abandon low water standard," the paper highlighted Prime Minister Li Keqiang's call at a Cabinet meeting for the setting up of the strictest food safety supervision system for China in another headline, despite the fact that the main subject of the meeting was economic reforms, the company said.

After three hours of submissions, the court adjourned.

Journalism was brought into the spotlight recently by the New Express Daily scandal, in which its reporter Chen Yoongzhou was arrested and two top editors sacked for the reporter fabricating news reports about Changsha-based Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co.





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