How Fox Justifies News Distortion
Bumped. Originally posted Fri, 02/08/2008 - 22:49.
Just a reminder...
Jane Akre and her husband Steve Wilson are former employees of Fox owned-and-operated station WTVT in Tampa, Florida. In 1997, they were fired from the station after refusing to include knowingly false information in their report concerning the Monsanto Corporation's production of RBGH, a drug designed to make cows produce more milk than what is natural. Side effects of the drug include a 25% greater chance of mastitis (infection of the udders). They successfully sued under Florida's whistle blower law and were awarded a US $425,000 settlement by jury decision. However, Fox appealed to an appellate court and won, after the court declared that the FCC policy against falsification that Fox violated was just a policy and not a "law, rule, or regulation", and so the whistle blower law did not apply.
In 2001, Jane Akre and her husband won the Goldman Environmental Prize as a recognition for their report on RBGH. 
After the verdict in the original case, according to Jane Akre,
By 10:31 p.m. when the station buried the story in the late news, the report was that WTVT was "completely vindicated." A FOX attorney from Los Angeles was seen telling viewers the jury's decision "does not have to do with distortion of the news."
From the actual findings, according to foxBGHsuit.com:
After a five-week trial and six hours of deliberation which ended August 18, 2000, a Florida state court jury unanimously determined that Fox "acted intentionally and deliberately to falsify or distort the plaintiffs' news reporting on BGH." In that decision, the jury also found that Jane's threat to blow the whistle on Fox's misconduct to the FCC was the sole reason for the termination... and the jury awarded $425,000 in damages which makes her eligible to apply for reimbursement for all court costs, expenses and legal fees.
The appeal found that distorting the news was technically not a crime...
While WTVT has raised a number of challenges to the judgment obtained by Akre, we need not address each challenge because we find as a threshold matter that Akre failed to state a claim under the whistle-blower's statute. The portion of the whistle-blower's statute pertinent to this appeal prohibits retaliation against employees who have “[d]isclosed, or threatened to disclose,” employer conduct that “is in violation of” a law, rule, or regulation. § 448.102(1)(3). The statute defines a “law, rule or regulation” as “includ[ing] any statute or . . . any rule or regulation adopted pursuant to any federal, state, or local statute or ordinance applicable to the employer and pertaining to the business.” § 448.101(4), Fla. Stat. (1997). We agree with WTVT that the FCC’s policy against the intentional falsification of the news – which the FCC has called its “news distortion policy” – does not qualify as the required “law, rule, or regulation” under section 448.102.
That would sound somewhat pithy -- the overall consensus appeared to be that the distortion of news was ok if it wasn't an adopted rule of the organization doing the distoring:
The FCC has never published its news distortion policy as a regulation with definitive elements and defenses. Instead, the FCC has developed the policy through the adjudicatory process in decisions resolving challenges to broadcasters’ licenses. The policy’s roots can be traced to 1949 when the FCC first expressed its concern regarding deceptive news in very general terms stating that “[a] licensee would be abusing his position as a public trustee of these important means of mass communications were he to withhold from expression over his facilities relevant news of facts concerning a controversy or to slant or distort the news."
Now isn't that special?
You can read the whole finding here, courtesy foxBGHsuit. In the meantime, know this: Fox News has been let off the hook until the FCC makes a few adjustments to the rulings over falsifying and distorting the news, but it doesn't change the fact that in this case, the broadcaster purposely sought to distort the news and pressured the reporters to falsify their reports. In effect, Fox News harmed the public by failing to uphold the duty to report threats to the public welfare, and the courts sided with them.
Until things change, there is nothing -- nothing -- stopping news organizations from being influenced by political and corporate players, to the detriment of the public and the nation as a whole. Only the integrity of the individuals stands in the way of unabashed propaganda, and the only way to ensure that their words and actions get out is to protect the freedom of speech and net neutrality against the constant onslaught by the traditional media and communications companies.
Additional things you may wish to reflect upon: This article, from what is sometimes referred to as a "Conspiracy Theorist" (CT) site, in the context of this PDF and this mainstream article on a Defense Simulation called "Cyber Storm."
Fair warning: don't clog my tubes.
Feel free to drink to that sentiment, too.