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State-run TV backs consumers irked by 'black spots'

Nikon to fix camera flaws cited by China

Bloomberg

Nikon Corp. said it will fix digital cameras at no charge after claims on Chinese state-run television that product defects caused “black spots” on photographs.

The camera maker will service its D600 digital cameras even after warranties expire, spokesman Ryota Satake said after China Central Television (CCTV) showed hidden-camera footage of customers demanding refunds and exchanges while local service staff blamed dust and smog for the spots.

Nikon’s alleged defects were highlighted in a broadcast Saturday marking World Consumer Rights Day, an annual program that has previously targeted such companies as Apple and Volkswagen. The show also alleged that a business owned by Datang’s Gohigh Data Networks Technology Co. helped plant software in mobile phones to collect private information.

“I’m sure some of the big Western multinationals are breathing a collective sigh of relief that they weren’t targeted,” Torsten Stocker, partner at consulting firm A.T. Kearney, said Sunday.

The program, which is watched closely by foreign companies and prompts some to prepare emergency response plans, “didn’t go for as spectacular or as big a target as in previous years,” Stocker said. “Maybe they are just trying to show that they are looking at a broad range of companies, not just foreign companies.”

Shares of Nikon fell in early trading Monday in Tokyo but rallied before finishing the day slightly lower. It has fallen about 15 percent for the year.

The Nikkei newspaper reported March 10 that U.S. customers had raised a class-action lawsuit against Nikon claiming D600 defects. Satake said the manufacturer is aware of the D600 camera issue and “aims to offer the same standard service for customers all over the world.”

The company posted a statement Feb. 26 saying it will provide free service for the D600 after warranties run out, including cleaning and a free exchange of parts. The Chinese broadcast highlighted the statement as insufficient to address a recurring defect in the camera.

Gohigh said in a statement on its website that a unit conducts mobile-application promotion services and that the company is “urgently verifying related details.”

State media outlets increasingly play a role in advocating on behalf of consumers as concern grows over China’s food and drug safety. Milk tainted with melamine, a toxic chemical used to make plastic and tan leather, was blamed for the deaths of at least six babies in 2008, with tens of thousands of children hospitalized. The government last year investigated companies that paid doctors to drum up drug sales and cracked down on crime rings selling adulterated meat.

A tougher consumer protection law, which increases penalties for fraud and false advertising, took effect Saturday.

It stipulates that most products sold online, through TV marketing, by telephone or mail, should be returnable within seven days without the need to provide a reason, the official Xinhua News Agency reported in October.

Last year’s CCTV “315 Gala” accused Apple of offering Chinese consumers warranties that were not comparable to those available in other markets. The company was then lambasted by the People’s Daily newspaper for arrogance and poor customer service. The SAIC followed by calling on local authorities to increase their supervision of clauses in Apple’s warranty policies.

Apple later changed its policy to offer full replacements of its iPhone 4 and 4S models and reset the warranty to one year. Previously, the company provided new parts and did not extend the warranty. Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook issued a public apology to Chinese consumers.

Volkswagen, Europe’s largest automaker, announced a vehicle recall after the show aired complaints from customers of abnormal vibrations, loss of power and sudden acceleration in models fitted with a direct-shift gearbox.

Local companies have also been targeted. Anhui Jianghuai Automotive Co. recalled more than 100,000 vehicles after last year’s program alleged it sold cars with rusted chassis. The automaker’s shares slumped 10 percent, the most in more than four years, in Shanghai on the next trading day.