In honor of International Press Freedom Day, My Hero presents the story of Jane Akre and Steve Wilson. These two journalists attempted to tell an important news story which would have exposed a gigantic genetic engineering company. They insisted, moreover, on keeping to the facts of the story, and this cost them their jobs.
This story has been reported in many independent online journalism outlets, including The Texas Observer, and the publication of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting), and Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly.
Akre and Wilson are 2001 recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize.
FREEDOM HEROES: JANE AKRE & STEVE WILSON
In 1997, reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson discovered that many dairy farmers in Florida were using Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) to increase milk production. Although the company that makes rBGH, Monsanto, insists that the hormone is safe, Akre and Wilson turned up testimony to the contrary: Farmers who began using rBGH reported seeing health problems in their cattle.
A special website that has been set up to report on the use of rBGH in dairy cattle says, "Though legal since approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1993, the artificial hormone commonly known as rBGH has been linked to cancer and is banned throughout Europe and unapproved in several other countries because of human health concerns."
The public did not want unnatural stuff in their milk, cheese and ice cream, and grocers knew this. However, because milk from different dairy farms sometimes gets mixed together, it was difficult for the grocers to know whether their milk products did or did not contain rBGH. Furthermore, Monsanto lobbied very hard against the labelling of products, which would give consumers more information and more choices.
Akre and Wilson presented their report to their bosses at WTVT, a news station owned by the Fox network. Although the details were well-documented, Monsanto, the maker of rBGH, pressured WTVT not to run the story. The station bosses, in turn, ordered Akre and Wilson to falsify details of the story. Akre and Wilson re-wrote the story 70 times, but never to the satisfaction of the network. They were locked out of their offices, denied access to crucial bits of information, and finally fired. The story ran in many independent journalism outlets, including The Texas Observer and the publication of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting), and Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly.
There is a law called the Whistleblowers Act that protects people from this sort of abuse, and Akre and Wilson invoked this law by suing Fox for misconduct.
After a five-week trial, a Florida jury hearing the case decided that Fox had "acted intentionally and deliberately to falsify or distort the plaintiffs' news reporting on BGH." Jane Akre was awarded damages for the loss of her job, and may also apply for reimbursement of her legal fees.