Birth-defect telefilm gets cleared to air in Germany

Court rules against drugmaker

After more than a year of legal wrangling, a German telefilm about the thalidomide birth-defect scandal of the 1960s has received court approval to go on the air.

Germany's federal constitutional court ruled Wednesday that public broadcaster WDR may air "Side Effects" in November as planned.

The film is a dramatization of a real-life story that centers on a German lawyer who took on the pharmaceutical companies and won what was at the time the world's largest damage settlement after his daughter was born deformed as a result of the drug.

In its ruling Wednesday, the court dismissed charges that producers had unfairly distorted the truth in their dramatization of real-life characters and events.

"A reasonably informed viewer (can be expected) to distinguish that characters depicted in the film are not to be understood as an all-embracing, factually precise representation of the relevant parties and their actions at the time," the court said.

Zeitsprung Entertainment producer Michael Souvignier hailed the ruling as "a big step forward for our company and an even bigger one for Contergan (the brand namer for thalidomide) victims and for all film producers in Germany."

The "Side Effects" case is a precedent-setting one for film production in Germany.

The broadcast and international sale of the film was blocked last summer after a lawsuit was brought by Gruenenthal, the drug company that manufactured Contergan in Germany. The company claimed that Zeitsprung and pubcaster WDR had greatly distorted the facts of the case.

After being rebuffed in several lower-court rulings, Gruenenthal took the case to the constitutional court, Germany's highest legal authority.

The company wanted to prevent WDR from airing the film on Nov. 7, the 50th anniversary of Contergan's introduction into the German market. WDR plans to devote the entire evening to the drug scandal, with documentaries on the event complementing the "Side Effects" broadcast.