rBGH Court Case in Tampa Puts Reporters' Freedom of Speech on Trial

The Agribusiness Examiner Issue # 82 July 27, 2000
Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective
A.V. Krebs Editor\Publisher
Editors Note: The Akre\Wilson Fox Television Trial

Freedom of speech , the integrity of the news that is broadcast over the
public airwaves, the safety of our food,, the ability of reporters to tell
stories that are free from the dictates of corporate coercion and a
deliberate slanting of the news by those same corporations and media
managers, are all issues vitally important to Americans and the future of
democracy itself.

Yet, at the present time, in a Florida courtroom where those very same
issues are being decided in the trial of Jane Akre and Steve Wilson there
has been a virtual national media blackout of the trial to date. Akre and
Wilson are two award-winning investigative reporters who formerly worked
at the Fox-owned television station (WTVT-13) in Tampa, Florida.

The husband-and-wife investigative team blew the whistle on a story they
say WTVT (Ch 13) and its corporate bosses preferred to coverup rather than
broadcast honestly and accurately. The story revealed the widespread use of
the rBGH hormone Florida dairymen have been secretly injecting into their
cows and how Florida supermarkets quietly reneged on promises not to sell
milk from treated cows until the hormone gained widespread acceptance by
consumers.

In their subsequent law suit the reporters charged in detail Fox
television, owned by Rupert Murdoch's multi-national News Corp, strongly
pressured by rBGH's manufacturer Monsanto, with violating the state's
whistleblower act by firing the journalists for refusing to broadcast false
reports and threatening to report the station's conduct to the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC).

Their complaint also claims the station violated the reporters' contracts
in dismissing them for those reasons and it seeks the court's determination
as to what extent the reporters' contractual obligations limit their
ability to speak freely about the rBGH issue. The journalists filed the
suit after struggling with Fox executives for most of 1997 to get the story
on the air, submitting over 83 drafts of scripts all found "unacceptable"
by the station before they were ultimately dismissed on December 2, 1997.

Because the readers of this newsletter, as well as the public, has a right
to know about this case and the issues it addresses The Agribusiness Examiner
will be publishing a series of "Extra" editions in the days ahead
with timely reports by both Akre and Wilson as their trial progresses.

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