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 station.
The conflict began in 1997 while Akre and Wilson, who are married,
worked on a story about bovine growth hormone (BGH), a Monsanto
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 cows."
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
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.