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WTVT-TV was a participant or observer in the following events:
Jane Akre. [Source: Injury Board (.com)]Investigative reporters Jane Akre and her husband Steve Wilson are hired by WTVT-TV, the Tampa, Florida, Fox News affiliate, to become part of its “Investigators” team. They soon begin filming a report on bovine growth hormone (BGH), a controversial substance manufactured by Monsanto. Their four-part report finds that BGH poses numerous health risks to milk consumers, including the threat of cancer, and that Florida supermarket chains routinely lie to their customers about not selling milk that contains BGH. Akre and Wilson will later recall that the local station is thrilled with the report. But after Monsanto complains to Fox News chief Roger Ailes about the report, the station’s general manager, David Boylan, tells Akre and Wilson to redo their film: to include statements from Monsanto that the filmmakers know to be false, and to make other revisions to the story that contradict the facts. According to Akre and Wilson, one Fox lawyer tells them that “it doesn’t matter if the facts are true,” what matters is the size of the lawsuit Monsanto might file against WTVT and Fox. Boylan tells the filmmakers that the position of Fox Television is: “We paid $3 billion for these television stations. We will decide what the news is. The news is what we tell you it is.” Akre and Wilson revise the story some 70 times, none of which passes muster with the station or with network officials. The couple is variously suspended without pay, suspended with pay, locked out of their workspace, and offered money to “just go away.” In late November 1997, when they threaten to inform the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the incident, WTVT fires them. They will file a lawsuit against WTVT and against Fox Television (see August 18, 2000). [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 6/1998; BGH Bulletin, 2004; St. Louis Journalism Review, 12/1/2007] Wilson later says: “Every editor has the right to kill a story and any honest reporter will tell you that happens from time to time when a news organization’s self interest wins out over the public interest. But when media managers who are not journalists have so little regard for the public trust that they actually order reporters to broadcast false information and slant the truth to curry the favor or avoid the wrath of special interests as happened here, that is the day any responsible reporter has to stand up and say, ‘No way!’ That is what Jane and I are saying with this lawsuit.… We set out to tell Florida consumers the truth a giant chemical company and a powerful dairy lobby clearly doesn’t want them to know. That used to be something investigative reporters won awards for. As we’ve learned the hard way, it’s something you can be fired for these days whenever a news organization places more value on its bottom line than on delivering the news to its viewers honestly.” Akre will add: “We are parents ourselves. It is not right for the station to withhold this important health information and solely as a matter of conscience we will not aid and abet their effort to cover this up any longer. Every parent and every consumer have the right to know what they’re pouring on their children’s morning cereal.” [BGH Bulletin, 2004] Akre and Wilson will win the Goldman Environmental Prize for their original report in 2001. [Prize, 2001]
Florida’s Second Court of Appeals overturns a wrongful-firing ruling against Fox Television by a lower court (see August 18, 2000), finding in favor of the network against two citizen plaintiffs who claim they were fired by Fox News for refusing to falsify a news segment they were producing for a local affiliate. In essence, the court rules that Fox, and by extension other media outlets, can legally lie to their consumers: that there is no law against distorting or falsifying the news in the US. The appeals court holds that the plaintiffs’ threat to report the network to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not deserve protection under Florida’s whistleblower statute, because a whistleblower must report “an employer breaking an adopted law, rule, or regulation.” The FCC has a policy against falsification of the news, but the court, in what the St. Louis Journalism Review will call “a stunningly narrow interpretation of FCC rules,” rules that the policy does not rise to the level of a “law, rule, or regulation.” Therefore, Fox Television’s Fox News Channel or any other news producer can produce willfully false stories and claim they are true, without fear of reprisal. In their court arguments, lawyers for Fox Television asserted that no rules or laws exist that prohibit distorting or falsifying news reports: that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves. The attorneys did not dispute that network officials pressured the plaintiffs to produce a false story; instead, they argued that it was the network’s right to do so. Fox Television won “friend of the court” support from five major news owners: Belo Corporation, Cox Television, Gannett, Media General Operations, and Post-Newsweek Stations. [St. Louis Journalism Review, 12/1/2007] After the verdict, the local Fox affiliate, WTVT-TV, airs a news report saying it is “totally vindicated” by the verdict. [Sierra Times, 2/28/2009]
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