Journalists challenge Fox, threatened with $1 million legal bill

TV Spy’s ShopTalk reported Monday that two TV journalists have challenged the license renewal of WTVT Fox-13, charging that it deliberately broadcast false news reports about Monsanto’s secret use of potentially cancer-causing growth hormones in milk. Reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson filed the petition Monday against Fox’s Tampa station after a Florida Appeals Court overturned a $425,000 jury award to them and then ordered them to pay court costs and issued rullings allowing Fox to seek $1 million in legal costs from them for defending itself against their Whistleblower lawsuit. The court said broadcasting false news reports is not a crime, striking grounds for their suit. The journalists are appealing.

Their petition to the Federal Communications Commission to deny the station’s license renewal includes evidence that the station’s managers repeatedly ordered them to distort a series of news reports about Monsanto’s secret use of the artificial hormone in dairy cattle throughout Florida and nationally. The reporters charge that station executives demanded their news stories be falsified to avoid a lawsuit by Monsanto and potential loss of advertising from the dairy industry. The petition also charges WTVT violated federal rules by removing complaints about the hormone story from its files.

Progressives should jump in and help because (1) the Appeals Court’s finding that it is not illegal for Fox or any other TV outlet to broadcast news that is patently false gives all corporate media an on-the-record license to lie, and (2) the Court’s ruling that Whistleblowers who lose a suit can be sued for huge legal bills by the companies they are suing shuts down a powerful tool for kicking corporate media in the teeth when they do lie. This is a big-stakes case and these two have been fighting it mostly alone for years. (They received a Goldman Prize in 2001 for reporting the story and fighting Fox and Monsanto.) They need money, volunteers, and moral support. If they lose this one, Monsanto can poison us all it wants and Fox can fool us with impunity. Full details of their case, the Appeals Court order for them to pay, their challenge to Fox 13’s license renewal, and how you can help can be found here.