Accepting a defense rejected by three other Florida
state judges in at least six separate motions, a Florida
appeals court has reversed the $425,000
verdict in favor of journalist Jane Akre who charged she was
pressured by Fox Television management and lawyers to air what
she knew and documented to be false information.
In a six-page written decision released February 14,
the court essentially ruled the journalist never stated a
valid whistle-blower claim because, they ruled, it is
technically not against any law, rule, or regulation to
deliberately lie or distort the news on a television
In the lawsuit filed in 1998, Akre claimed she
was wrongfully terminated for threatening to blow the whistle
to the FCC. After a five-week trial that ended August
18, 2000, a six-person jury was unanimous in its conclusion
that she was indeed fired for threatening report the
station’s pressure to broadcast what jurors decided was “a
false, distorted, or slanted” story about the widespread use
of growth hormone in dairy cows.
In overturning the jury on what amounts to a legal
technicality, the court did not dispute the heart of Akre’s
claim, that Fox pressured her to broadcast a false story to
protect the broadcaster from having to defend the truth in
court, as well as suffer the ire of irate advertisers.
Nonetheless, the station aired a report in wake of
the ruling saying it was “totally vindicated” by the
verdict. CLICK HERE
to view how story was told on
The “threshold issue,” the court wrote—and
all it ruled upon—was whether the technical qualifications
for a whistleblower claim were ever met by Akre.
In Florida, to file such a claim, the employer
misconduct must be a violation of an adopted law, rule or
regulation. Fox argued from the first—and repeatedly
failed in front of three different judges—to have the case
tossed out on the grounds there is no hard, fast, and written
rule against deliberate distortion of the news.
In essence, the news organization owned by media
baron Rupert Murdoch, argued the First Amendment gives
broadcasters the right to even lie or deliberately distort
news reports on the public airwaves.
In it’s opinion, the Court of Appeal held that
the Federal Communications Commission position against news
distortion is only a “policy,” not a promulgated law,
rule, or regulation.
The court let stand without comment the jury
verdict that awarded nothing to Steve Wilson, Akre’s husband
and co-plaintiff in the case. He aggressively
represented himself at trial, paving the way for Fox attorneys
to suggest he was as aggressive in the newsroom as he was in
the courtroom and perhaps that was why he was fired.
Akre and Wilson were meeting with their
attorneys to discuss a possible appeal of the ruling to
Florida’s Supreme Court and are expected to have an
announcement and further comment soon.
Text of ruling available
on line at:
(www.2dca.org - opinions)