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Sunday, March 23, 2003
Courtstapo Endorses Media Lies And Powellaganda
Florida appeals court says news media lies and distortions are not illegal
By Regina Varolli
Online Journal Contributing Writer
March 13, 2003�If you've ever suspected that when you tune into TV news programs you're not getting all the facts, then give yourself a pat on the back for being right, because a Florida Court of Appeals has recently ruled that lying and distortion of the truth by the media isn't in fact illegal.
It began with two Fox journalists who had been investigating the use of bovine growth hormones (BGH) on dairy cows in Florida. Wife and husband team Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, both award-winning journalists, worked together to expose the fact that unbeknownst to Florida consumers, Monsanto's BGH product POSILAC was being used on dairy farms throughout Florida. In fact, seven out of seven dairy farms they visited during their investigation admitted to using POSILAC on their livestock.
To many, this is a serious health issue, an issue which hits upon the fundamental problems associated with all genetically modified foods (GMFs), and as such, Akre and Wilson felt it was imperative to expose the rampant use of POSILAC and the dangers associated with it.
Their story, which can be read at www.FoxBGHsuit.com , is a hard-hitting piece of honest investigative journalism. It brings into the open the risks associated with POSILAC, both for the cows and for the humans who drink their milk. It exposes the lack of diligence on behalf of Florida officials, as well as federal officials, in testing the milk produced by injected cows. And it exposes Monsanto for what it is, a company driven by greed that couldn't be less concerned about public safety and health, and which is willing to bribe, threaten, and sue in order to keep its products pumping into the US market.
Anyone who knows even the slightest history of Monsanto might have been able to see what was in store for journalists Akre and Wilson. Monsanto is notorious for flexing it's formidable financial muscle whenever any journalist has attempted to peek into its dealings, its research, or its influence over the US government. Further, Monsanto has successfully killed all legislation that would require labeling of GMFs sold in the US, and where labeling has been the choice of a given company (in Akre and Wilson's story, the ice-cream makers Ben & Jerry), lawsuits have been filed so as to prevent the company from labeling their ice creams "artificial BGH free." The effect of this is clear, the general public in the US hasn't much of a clue regarding the existence or the dangers of GMFs sold in the US.
But Akre and Wilson pursued their story, and they took it to their employer, Fox-Channel 13 in Florida. What happened to them is a sad but true example of the fact that "news" in the US can be little more than a compilation of lies and half-truths calculated by media executives for the purpose of protecting their big-money advertisers.
From the start, Akre and Wilson met with resistance on the part of Fox. Hard as they pushed, they were discouraged at every step. Not only were they asked to re-write their report to exclude certain facts and to skew others, they were offered hefty sums of money for their compliance. Though Akre and Wilson fought fiercely to air the story with all the facts intact, even threatening to blow the whistle to the FCC, they lost the battle, and eventually, in December of 1997, they were fired.
Why were they fired? In a word, Monsanto.
In 1998, Akre and Wilson filed a suit against Fox for wrongful dismissal. In August 2000, a Florida state jury voted unanimously that Fox had "acted intentionally and deliberately to falsify or distort the plaintiffs' news reporting on BGH." The jury awarded Akre $425,000 and found that Fox had terminated her solely because she had threatened to go to the FCC.
Fox, of course, appealed the verdict, and on February 14, Florida's Second District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Fox TV, overturning the previous unanimous decision in favor of the plaintiffs, and ruling that Akre and Wilson must pay all of Fox's legal fees, a figure well over one million dollars.
When I contacted Jane Akre, she emphasized that "If the fees issue is allowed to stand, there will never be another whistleblower in the state of Florida and it will likely be used by defendants to scare off potential whistleblowers in other states as well . . . The awarding of fees to the defendant has never happened and we are hopeful the court will see the error of its ways."
The decision of the appeals court was based on the fact that a whistleblower claim in Florida carries validity only if the misconduct by a given corporation is in violation of a specific law. It was ruled that there is no law in Florida that prohibits a news agency from lying or distorting the truth, further, that where the FCC is concerned, truth in news reporting is only a "policy," not a law.
Akre also told me that "The court agreed with Fox that this case should have never been brought because technically there is no law, rule, or regulation against distorting the news and lying on the air. That is shocking! For the first time, broadcasters are admitting they don't have to play by any rules."
The fact that Fox has admitted this in a court of law, moreover has used this as its defense, truly is shocking. Unfortunately, the fact that this has been the policy of broadcasters for some time now is less shocking. At some point or other many of us have doubted the truthfulness of the television media, this case serves to validate these doubts. It is proof that our suspicions are not just the product of our own personal cynicism.
Sadly, this proof comes at great cost to Akre and Wilson. Unlike other reporters who have been scared off by Monsanto's threats, Akre and Wilson didn't allow themselves to be intimidated by the GMF giant or its bed-fellow, Rupert Murdoch. However, for their integrity and honesty, and for their desire to inform the public, they have paid the price with their time, their money, and even their jobs
posted by Vetzine