January 10, 2012 – 10:19AM
Channel Sevenâ€™s current affairs program Today Tonight has been banned from alleging that a petrol company sold inferior quality Coca-Cola products in its convenience stores.
United Petroleum yesterday successfully sought the injunction in the Victorian Supreme Court against the Seven Network, which also bans the imputations from the “hidden camera” story being promoted on its website.
Unitedâ€™s national merchandise manager Mark Harris wrote in an affidavit that a Today Tonight producer approached the companyâ€™s marketing manager to inform her that the program was going to run a story on the sale of imported products by Australian retailers, including certain Coca-Cola products sold by United.
He said the story would specifically reference 500 millilitre Coca-Cola from Hong Kong and 375ml Coca-Cola from the USA.
“(The producer) Ms (Tineka) Everaardt explained that Today Tonight had investigated a number of Unitedâ€™s stores and had taken video footage of person purchasing certain products from a United store in Queensland with a hidden camera,” Mr Harris wrote.
“Ms Everaardt said that the product out of the United States tasted â€™okayâ€™ but the product from Hong Kong tasted different. Ms Everaardt said that the program will heavily feature United but that it will also look at the Reject Shop regarding the sale of Coca-Cola imported from Vietnam.”
Mr Harris continued in his affidavit filed with the court that the segment was due to be aired last night with a promotional teaser of: “Consumers are being tricked into buying fake foreign products that are infiltrating our stores by appearing exactly the same as the big brands.”
Mr Harris said the companyâ€™s solicitors wrote to Today Tonight to inform them that “United does not sell any fake products.”
He wrote: “United is an Australian-owned company that started in 1981 and … it relies upon its reputation as a good value and reputable retailer of both petroleum and convenience store products. It operates in a difficult and competitive market.
“United is not involved in the sale of fake or inferior products nor does it mislead its customers. Any program which suggests or infers in any way that United sells or is involved in the sale of fake or inferior products or that United is in any way misleading its customers is likely to cause significant damage to United. The damages would be both direct and indirect.”
Last night, Today Tonight led its program with a segment about â€˜â€˜Big brand look-a-likes finding their way into our storesâ€™â€™ and featured United and The Reject Shop as sourcing parallel imports from Hong Kong, the United States and Vietnam, respectively.
The segment continued with Ms Everaardt reporting that United â€˜â€˜tell us theyâ€™ve got nothing to hideâ€™â€™ and featured excerpts from a corporate statement issued to Today Tonight.
In that statement, posted in full on Today Tonightâ€™s website, United said it now sourced some Coca-Cola products from offshore as a result of a breakdown in their trading relationship over which products to stock.
Justice Kevin Bell late yesterday banned Today Tonight from advertising a story involving United and the sale of Coca-Cola products “that states, alleges or implies that the products are illegitimate, fake, manufactured or supplied by anybody other than Coca-Cola or a distributor, manufacturer or supplier authorised by Coca-Cola, or an attempt by the plaintiff (United) to trick customers”.
The Seven Network was not represented by legal counsel at yesterdayâ€™s hearing. The ban was to last until 5pm on Thursday. The case returns to court earlier that day.