Freedom to Lie

Joel Bleifuss

Where was the Republican Party legal team this past February when a Florida appeals court ruled that the media is not prohibited by FCC “law, rule or regulation” from distorting the news? In so doing, the court threw out a $425,000 judgment against Fox Television that a jury had awarded Jane Akre, a former Fox reporter.Akre claimed Fox fired her in 1998 for threatening to report to the FCC that the management at Fox’s Tampa station, WTVT, was pressuring her to broadcast a factually inaccurate story about the artificial growth hormone GBH, which is injected into cows to increase milk production. In August 2000, a jury unanimously decided that the report Fox wanted Akre to air was “false, distorted, or slanted.”The appeals court, in overturning the verdict, did not dispute the issues in the case—that Fox pressured Akre to file an erroneous story in order to avoid a threatened lawsuit and to placate influential advertisers. It merely said that Akre had no standing to bring a whistleblower lawsuit because the FCC’s “news distortion policy” is not legally binding.In the wake of the ruling, Fox went on the air with a broadcast saying it had been “totally vindicated,” neglecting to mention that, according to the court, news outlets like Fox are under no legal obligation to tell viewers the truth.

Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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