• Kyodo


The Saitama District Court on Tuesday rejected a 200 million yen lawsuit filed by vegetable farmers in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, over a 1999 report by Asahi National Broadcasting Co. (TV Asahi) about dioxin contamination.

A banner reading “Unfair Judgment” is unfurled by farmers in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture.

Aired on Feb. 1, 1999, the report, which said high levels of the carcinogen had been detected in local spinach and other vegetables from the area, caused prices of the produce to collapse.

Presiding Judge Yasushi Sato ruled out the need for TV Asahi and a private research institute to pay the 376 farmers who sought compensation, an apology and a correction from the network.

Sato said he “acknowledges that the TV Asahi report clearly damaged the social reputation of the plaintiffs and defamed individual farmers,” but said the broadcast “was intended to protect the public interest and the thrust of the report was correct.”

According to the court, TV Asahi reported in its “News Station” program that up to 3.8 picograms of dioxin per gram were detected in “leafy farm products, including spinach,” in Tokorozawa. A picogram is 1 trillionth of a gram.

But after the report was broadcast, the Saitama Prefectural Government announced that only green tea leaves — not vegetables — showed high contamination levels.

The report was based on data offered by Environmental Research Institute, whose director, Teiichi Aoyama, appeared on the program.

The farmers said the think tank offered inaccurate information and the TV station made it sound as if high dioxin levels were detected in ordinary vegetables, causing a sharp fall in vegetable prices and causing them to be maligned.

TV Asahi said it has apologized for using misleading language in the news program but maintained that the gist of the report was correct.

As for the alleged effects of the TV report on prevailing rumors about produce in Tokorozawa, the TV network said anxiety over dioxin pollution in vegetables grown near Tokorozawa, where several trash incinerators are located, was already high before it aired the report.

The institute said it denied in the program that spinach was a product containing high levels of dioxin and that the results of a survey were valid from the viewpoint of researchers.

Yukyo Nagashima, a lawyer representing the farmers, said the ruling was “unexpected and unjust.”

“The ruling is in line with the view of reporters and does not stand by viewers and those who are affected by media reports. I am not convinced,” he said.

TV Asahi said the ruling “correctly understands the purpose and significance of the broadcast.”

Saitama Gov. Yoshihiko Tsuchiya said the prefecture will continue to make efforts to protect farmers and promote the farm industry as well as create a society free of dioxin contamination.

Junichi Hamada, a professor of information law at the University of Tokyo, said the ruling was “appropriate” because it suggested that news organizations could take a “bold approach” in reporting pressing matters, such as dioxin contamination, which affect the health of the public.

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