TV Asahi, farmers reach accord on suit over tainted-produce report

TV Asahi Corp. reached an agreement Wednesday with a group of farmers to settle a damages suit over a 1999 news report on dioxin contamination that the farmers say triggered a plunge in vegetable sales.

Under the settlement package, reached at the Tokyo High Court, the Tokyo-based broadcast network must apologize to the 29 farmers in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, and pay them a total of 10 million yen. The farmers had sought 26 million yen in damages.

The farmers said they will donate 9 million yen of the payout to farmers on Miyake Island, from which residents were evacuated in 2000 due to volcanic activity. The remaining 1 million yen will be donated to Tokorozawa “to help the city provide education for children on the issue of food and agriculture,” they said.

The Supreme Court concluded in October that the TV Asahi report had offered no proof, quashing a lower court decision that rejected damages claims. It ordered the case back to the high court, which then recommended that the two parties work out a settlement.

In a February 1999 broadcast of its now-ended weeknight news program News Station, TV Asahi presented data from a private institute that up to 3.8 picograms of dioxin per gram had been detected in 1 gram of green-tea leaves. A picogram is one-trillionth of a gram.

However, the popular one-hour program did not make it clear that the data were for tea leaves when the anchor discussed with the head of the institute the problem of dioxin concentration in vegetables.

Following the broadcast, some supermarket chains stopped selling spinach produced in Tokorozawa.

Some 367 Tokorozawa farmers originally took part in the legal action against TV Asahi in September 1999, seeking a combined 200 million yen. They charged that the TV Asahi report made it look like the dioxin data were for leafy vegetables such as spinach.

On the question of whether the farmers had suffered damage from the TV Asahi report, the Supreme Court has determined that a comprehensive judgment should be made on what impression viewers get from the overall content of the program.

Under the terms of the settlement, TV Asahi acknowledged that part of the explanations given during the program was “inappropriate and caused misunderstanding among viewers.”

“We apologize from the bottom of our hearts that (the program) led people to harbor doubts about the safety of vegetables produced in Tokorozawa and caused huge troubles to the local farmers,” the broadcaster said in the settlement.