Fired whistle blowers still fighting (12/12/2004)

The e-mail message below relates to the fallout from the 1997 firing of two award-winning investigative reporters - Jane Akre and Steve Wilson - by Murdoch's Fox TV, after they refused to broadcast lies about the safety of a Monsanto product.

Fox TV, following pressure from Monsanto, had tried to sweep under the rug much of what the two journalists had discovered, but were never allowed to broadcast, about Monsanto's genetically engineered cattle drug - bovine growth hormone (BGH, aka BST).

The two journalists twice refused Fox offers of big-money deals to keep quiet about what they knew, filing their landmark lawsuit in April 1998. They survived three Fox efforts to have their case summarily dismissed, in the first instance of US journalists using a whistleblower law to seek a legal remedy for being fired for refusing to distort the news.

After a five-week hearing, in August 2000 a Florida state court jury unanimously determined that Fox "acted intentionally and deliberately to falsify or distort the plaintiffs' news reporting on BGH." In that decision, the jury also found that Jane Akre's threat to blow the whistle on Fox's misconduct to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), was the sole reason for the termination of her contract and the jury awarded $425,000 in damages.

Fox appealed and prevailed in February 2003 when an appeals court issued a ruling reversing the jury's decision, accepting a defense argument that had been rejected by three other judges on at least six separate occasions.

The journalists are now daid to be considering an appeal to the Florida state Supreme Court.


Dear Friend,

It has been some time now since you expressed an interest in the case of Fox Television distorting news reports about growth hormones in your milk. Two investigative reporters - Jane Akre and Steve Wilson - were fired by Fox for refusing to broadcast lies on the air. In 2000, you may recall, a jury ruled the story Fox pressured them to broadcast was indeed "false, distorted, or slanted."

While the landmark Whistleblower jury verdict against WTVT Fox -13 in Tampa was overturned on appeal, it still drags on while Akre and Wilson continue their struggle to stop Fox news distortion now by filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) a petition to deny the license renewal of WTVT on the grounds Fox has not operated the station in the public interest.

Please read on to see how you can help.

The whole sordid story of media misconduct in Tampa is a centerpiece of the new independent film "The Corporation." This terrific film, winner of nine audience choice awards including one at Sundance, is making its debut in Tampa this weekend at the magnificent Tampa Theater. The Seattle Times calls the film "one of the must-see documentaries of the new century."

Akre and Wilson will appear in person at Sunday evening's screening of the film (Dec 12) and will participate in a discussion of their case, the pending FCC petition, and what Tampa Bay area residents can do to help. ( The film begins at 6:15 p.m. Sunday, Dec 12, Tampa Theater, 711 Franklin Street, Tampa
see http://www.tampatheatre.org for more)

We'd love to see you Sunday but even if you can't make it - and no matter where in the country you live - here's how you can help us greatly:

Shortly after we were fired by Fox and filed our lawsuit, many of you used a link on our website (www:foxBGHsuit.com) to FAX or e-mail WTVT to comment on its actions. Others sent letters directly to the station.

There is evidence the station may have ignored and discarded these comments in violation of the law, sometimes even without acknowledging them. If you were among those who sent any such communication to WTVT about this issue at any time - whether or not you received any acknowledgement or reply - it would be extremely helpful if you would just email us a note about that.

Your immediate response to us today without delay, so that we may meet our Petition filing deadline this month, is something you can do to stand up with us against the distortion of the news in the corporate-owned media.

Here's our email: mailto:[email protected]

We certainly appreciate any help any of you can give and please feel free to circulate this among groups or lists you feel me have an interest.

For those of you who have asked, here is a quick summary of the developments in our long-suffering efforts to seek justice through the court:

* On December 2, 1997, Fox dismissed Jane and Steve.

* On April 2, 1998, Jane and Steve filed a civil lawsuit against WTVT/Fox charging they were fired for refusing to broadcast what they knew and documented to be lies and distortions in a series of news reports about bovine growth hormone and for threatening the station's misconduct to the FCC.

* On August 18, 2000, following a five-week trial, a Florida state court jury found that Fox terminated Jane for opposing the broadcast of a "false, distorted, or slanted news report" and awarded her $425,000. Fox appealed. (Steve, who represented
himself at trial, received nothing on his identical claim.)

* On February 14, 2003, the Florida Court of Appeal overturned the jury's verdict (though not it's finding that the story was false, distorted or slanted). The decision was based largely on the
grounds that since it is not against any promulgated law, rule, or regulation for a licensed broadcaster to deliberately distort the news or lie on the air, Akre and Wilson were never deserving of
protection as whistleblowers in the first place.

Post-appeal, as the ultimate prevailing party in the lawsuit, Fox then moved the court to order the two journalists to reimburse the broadcaster about $2 million for legal fees and court costs the Murdoch organization spent to defend itself.

* On August 18, 2004, the trial judge denied Fox's motion for attorneys' fees to be charged to the journalists but ruled the company was entitled to collect certain other fees and costs from the two, an amount of about $80,000. Still to be decided is a separate Fox effort to collect more than an additional $117,000 from Steve in reimbursement of Fox appellate fees and costs.

* On November 1, 2004, Jane and Steve filed a motion with the court seeking clarification of which of the two of them was responsible for which reimbursements.

We'd be happy to answer any questions any of you may have:

mailto:[email protected]
mailto:[email protected]

Our webite, though admittedly it needs help, is still online at

Jane Akre
Steve Wilson

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