Lies, Damn Lies. And Milk.

A Florida judge decided recently that it's technically legal for the media to deliberately lie or distort the news on a television broadcast.

The decison reversed a $425,000 jury verdict in favor of TV journalists Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, who sued WTVT-TV, a Fox affiliate in Tampa, for firing them because they refused to air false reports about the presence of synthetic bovine growth hormone (or BGH) in the area milk supply. The husband-and-wife reporting team asserts that Monsanto, maker of BGH, pressured WTVT to edit the story to be less damning to the company (some of the changes would've undermined the credibility of scientists and studies that link BGH in milk to cancer). Akre and Wilson refused, despite repeated attempts by the station to have the story altered and an offer to terminate them with full pay if they never spoke of their BGH findings. Finally, says Akre, when they threatened to report the station to the FCC for falsifying news, they were canned. The lawsuit was settled in August 2000 with the finding that Fox "acted intentionally and deliberately to falsify or distort the plaintiffs' news reporting on BGH" and that Akre's threat to blow the whistle on Fox's misconduct to the FCC was the sole reason for the termination. The station appealed and prevailed, the judge citing that there is no FCC rule or regulation that specifically makes it illegal to mislead, distort, or falsify the news. The FCC's "news distortion policy," says Judge Casaneuva, isn't enough.

To download court documents see New World Communications of Tampa v. Akre or visit Akre's website.

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