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February 27, 2003, 1400 PST (FTW) -- Last year FTW reported on an encouraging lower court victory by two TV reporters who had been fired by a Florida FOX affiliate for refusing to air a story containing false and inaccurate information. The story, describing the dangers of widespread growth hormone use by dairy farmers, was ultimately slanted by FOX to protect its advertising revenues.

An Organic Consumers report now brings us the saddening news that a Florida Appeals court has overturned the original ruling on the grounds that there is absolutely nothing illegal about lying, concealing or distorting information by a major press organization.  -- FTW


Court Reverses Ruling on Jane Akre's rBGH Suit

Feb. 21, 2003

Accepting a defense rejected by three other Florida state judges on at least six separate motions, a Florida appeals court has reversed the $425,000 jury verdict in favor of journalist Jane Akre who charged she was pressured by Fox Television management and lawyers to air what she knew and documented to be false information.

In a six-page written decision released February 14, the court essentially ruled the journalist never stated a valid whistle- blower claim because, they ruled, it is technically not against any law, rule, or regulation to deliberately lie or distort the news on a television broadcast.

In the lawsuit filed in 1998, Akre claimed she was wrongfully terminated for threatening to blow the whistle to the FCC. After a five-week trial that ended August 18, 2000, a six-person jury was unanimous in its conclusion that she was indeed fired for threatening report the station's pressure to broadcast what jurors decided was "a false, distorted, or slanted" story about the widespread use of growth hormone in dairy cows.

In overturning the jury on what amounts to a legal technicality, the court did not dispute the heart of Akre's claim, that Fox pressured her to broadcast a false story to protect the broadcaster from having to defend the truth in court, as well as suffer the ire of irate advertisers.

Nonetheless, the station aired a report in wake of the ruling saying it was "totally vindicated" by the verdict.

The "threshold issue," the court wrote-and all it ruled upon--was whether the technical qualifications for a whistleblower claim were ever met by Akre. In Florida, to file such a claim, the employer's misconduct must be a violation of an adopted law, rule or regulation. Fox argued from the first-and failed on three separate occasions in front of three different judges-to have the case tossed out on the grounds there is no hard, fast, and written rule against deliberate distortion of the news.

In essence, the news organization owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, argued the First Amendment gives broadcasters the right to even lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves.

In its opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the Federal Communications Commission position against news distortion is only a "policy," not a promulgated law, rule, or regulation. The court let stand without comment the jury verdict that awarded nothing to Steve Wilson, Akre's husband and co-plaintiff in the case. He aggressively represented himself at trial, paving the way for Fox attorneys to suggest he was as aggressive in the newsroom as he was in the courtroom and perhaps that was why he was fired. 

Akre and Wilson were meeting with their attorneys to discuss a possible appeal of the ruling to Florida's Supreme Court and are expected to have an announcement and further comment soon. For further information:

[Reposted under Fair Use Copyright Laws]

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