Free speech advocates can go Bananas!* after Dole announced Thursday that it is withdrawing its defamation lawsuit against a pair of Swedish filmmakers. The company had filed the suit against Fredrik Gertten, Margarete Jangard and WG Film AB on July 8, 2009 for their negative portrayal of Dole in a documentary film.
Bananas!*, which premiered at the 2009 Las Vegas Film Festival, investigated the alleged health risks of plantation workers in Nicaragua. The film depicts a 2008 lawsuit against Dole by Nicaraguan workers who claimed that exposure to DBCP pesticides made them sterile. The film was completed before additional investigation revealed that several of the workers’ claims were false. The remaining cases against Dole were dismissed in April.
Marty Ordman, a Dole spokesperson, said the company pursued its defamation action after the company attempted to begin dialogue with Gertten and prevent the film’s screening because the movie centered on fraudulent claims. He also said Gertten never approached Dole to obtain confirmation or comment.
Earlier this month, the International Federation of Journalists condemned Dole for its legal pursuits. "It is an unforgivable violation of free speech," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, in a statement. Additionally, Swedish burger chain Max announced its decision earlier this month to stop serving Dole fruit salad in light of the lawsuit. Ordman noted that the decision to withdraw the case was not in direct response to these responses.
The decision came after concerns were voiced in Sweden that the suit directly violated free speech amendments. “Although we believe in the merits of the case, we wanted to take those concerns under consideration, especially those of our customers and our retailers in Sweden,” said Ordman. “They are valued partners of ours, and that’s why we took the action we did.”
C. Michael Carter, Dole’s executive vice president and general counsel, in a statement, “While the filmmakers continue to show a film that is fundamentally flawed and contains many false statements, we look forward to an open discussion with the filmmakers regarding the content of the film.”