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Nongfu Spring accuses Beijing Times of defamation

Updated: 2013-11-05 01:36
By Zhao Lei ( China Daily)

Nongfu Spring accuses Beijing Times of defamation

Consumers wait for water extracted from Qiandao Lake at a Nongfu Spring branch in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in June. LI JUNFENG / FOR CHINA DAILY

One of China's biggest bottled-water producers has filed complaints to the top media regulator, accusing a Beijing newspaper of deliberately defaming the company.

After verbal confrontations in April and May, Nongfu Spring, a bottled-water giant based in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, said it sent workers on Monday to the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television to submit complaints that the Beijing Times had published as many as 76 "fake" stories to taint the image of the company.

"The Beijing Times intentionally and systematically published 76 negative stories about Nongfu Spring from April 10 to May 7. ... It is an unprecedented case in China's history that a news organization launched such large-scale critical coverage of one single enterprise," the company said in a statement on its Sina Weibo micro-blogging account on Monday morning.

The statement then accused the Beijing Times of making irresponsible claims that the company was following standards even laxer than those for tap water when manufacturing bottled-water products. The newspaper also fabricated remarks from the national and provincial health watchdogs to support its "biased" reports, the company said.

Nongfu further blasted the Beijing Times for never listening to it for 26 consecutive days when it issued negative reports concerning the company.

The newspaper also imposed "propagandistic violence" on the company by highlighting quotes by some industry guilds that were untrue about Nongfu's products, the statement added, saying the newspaper was deliberately smearing Nongfu.

"We have submitted evidence to the administration and hope it can thoroughly investigate the case," said the statement.

The dispute started on April 10 when the Beijing newspaper published a report accusing Nongfu Spring of adopting the water-quality standards of Zhejiang province instead of the stricter national standards, although the water is sold all over China.

In subsequent stories, the newspaper was involved in fierce exchanges of accusations and counterattacks with the company.

Zhong Shanshan, chairman of Nongfu Spring, said at a news conference on May 6 in Beijing that the company has adopted both national standards and provincial requirements in Zhejiang, and that the national standards are mandatory for all bottled-water enterprises, which is why they are not labeled on its products.

He also said that wherever there is a discrepancy between the standards, the company has followed the stricter one.

His remarks were later endorsed by health authorities in Zhejiang, which said random checks on four batches of Nongfu Spring bottled water from its six production sites on April 11 by the quality watchdog of Hangzhou all passed tests and met national mandatory standards for bottled drinking water.

The company said in May that it had filed a defamation suit to a Beijing court, seeking 60 million yuan ($9.7 million) in damages from the newspaper.

However, whether the court received the suit has not been reported.

Nongfu's latest move was made amid a nationwide campaign by the government and news organizations to crack down on journalistic corruption and fabricated reporting.

The campaign was launched after Chen Yongzhou, a reporter at the Guangdong newspaper New Express, was detained by police in Hunan province on suspicions of taking bribes and using fake materials to denigrate a Hunan company.

The State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television has called on all media organizations and reporters to learn from the case.


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