TAMPA, Florida, January 5, 2005 (ENS): Two television journalists
have filed a challenge to the broadcast license renewal
application of WTVT Fox-13, claiming the station knowingly
aired false and distorted news reports about the risk
of cancer from growth hormones in milk.
Veteran journalists Jane Akre and Steve Wilson filed
the petition Monday against the Tampa station, which
is part of Rupert Murdoch's Fox Television corporation.
The petition to the Federal Communications Commission
claims that the licensee is not operating in the public
interest and "lacks the good character to do so."
The "Tampa Bay Business Journal" quotes WTVT
General Manager Bob Linger as saying Monday that the
station has received the petition and is preparing a
timely response, which he expects will fully vindicate
The conflict began in 1997 while Akre and Wilson, who
are married, worked on a story about bovine growth hormone
(BGH), a Monsanto product.
The journalists say they discovered that "a large
share of America’s milk supply has quietly become
adulterated with the effects of a synthetic hormone
(bovine growth hormone, or BGH) secretly injected into
The BGH stimulates the production of another hormone
called IGF-1 that speeds up the cow's metabolism, causing
her to produce up to 30 percent more milk.
But the report at issue had the narrator saying that
there is "a growing body of scientific evidence
of a link between IGF-1 and human cancers which might
not show up for years to come."
Akre and Wilson claim that pressure from Monsanto convinced
WTVT to fire them and "sweep under the rug"
the link between BGH and cancer.
The station did not air the couple's report although
they rewrote it dozens of times in an attempt to satisfy
the station and Monsanto while still informing the public
about the risk that milk from BGH treated cows may pose
a risk of cancer.
In one of the versions, Dr. Samuel Epstein, a medical
doctor and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois
School of Public Health, says "…there are
highly suggestive if not persuasive lines of evidence
showing that consumption of this milk poses risks of
breast and colon cancer." Another medical doctor
is quoted making the same connection, and a Monsanto
spokesman balances the report by stating the corporation's
confidence that the hormone is safe.
Wilson and Akre sued the station in 1998 after they
were released early from their contracts.
Fox maintains that it never asked Wilson and Akre to
lie in their story. The station says the two were let
go for insubordination and for refusal to be objective.
In August 2000, a jury awarded Akre $425,000, saying
the station retaliated against her for threatening to
blow the whistle on a false or distorted news report.
The same jury decided the station had not harmed Wilson.
That verdict was later overturned on appeal, but the
station sought $2 million in attorneys' fees and costs.
In August 2004, a judge ruled that the reporters did
not have to pay those fees and costs.
Akre and Wilson have won several awards for their stance.
They won the 2001 Goldman Prize for North America and
in 1999 were awarded the Courage in Journalism prize
from the Alliance for Democracy.