BGH Reporters Receive Top Journalism
Award For Standing Up For The Truth
LOS ANGELES (October 24, 1998) – Former Fox Television investigative reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson have received one of the top honors in journalism for standing up to their managers and station lawyers when they say they were ordered to broadcast false and misleading news reports.
The national Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) presented the husband-and-wife team its Award for Ethics at the group’s annual conference Saturday in Los Angeles. It was only the fourth time the group has bestowed such an ethics honor in its 89-year history.
In presenting the honor, SPJ President Fred Brown said the award recognizes those individuals who, through their actions and decisions, provide a role model for all journalists.
(Jane and Steve) actually lost their jobs for refusing to incorporate false information into an investigative story about bovine growth hormone," Brown said, "and then waged a post-employment campaign to make sure the record was set straight in the case." The two received a standing ovation in the cavernous hotel ballroom packed with journalists from around the country.
Akre and Wilson were both fired by Fox-owned Channel 13 in Tampa just before Christmas of last year. They filed a lawsuit April 2, claiming they were dismissed for refusing to following orders to broadcast what they knew and documented to be false and misleading reports about the presence of a potentially deadly hormone they discovered in the milk supply throughout Florida and elsewhere.
The journalists have charged Fox managers and lawyers ordered them to lie and slant their reports in wake of two threatening letters from a lawyer representing the Monsanto company which makes the hormone in question. Their state court whistleblower complaint details how Monsanto directed its strong-arm pressure to kill or influence the story to Fox News chief Roger Ailes. He reportedly passed it along to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Television Stations division which owns and operates Channel 13.
"We are both humbled and heartened by this unexpected honor," says Akre.
Her co-plaintiff Steve Wilson added, "A WTVT producer testified under oath in a deposition just last week that Jane and I now have terrible reputations at the station where we devoted a year of our lives to try and tell an honest story people have a right to hear. Her testimony was especially troubling in light of the fact neither of us ever worked with this woman and, in fact, we essentially worked alone and could never get our best work on the air without misleading the viewers, which we refused to do.
"Our lawsuit was never about a simple employment dispute, as some local journalists seem inclined to believe without taking the time to really look into the facts," Wilson said.
"As proud as we are to receive this award, its real significance is that our peers at SPJ reviewed the situation on their own and saw the issue the same as we: to what extent can viewers and readers be served if journalists anywhere start giving into pressure to falsify or slant their reports?" he concluded.
Wilson and Akre are also in the process of preparing a formal complain to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking for a full and complete investigation into the character of a licensee who would order journalists to use the public airwaves to present news reports known to be false or slanted.
The 13,500-member SPJ represents journalists throughout America and is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism, stimulating high standards of ethical behavior, and perpetuating a free press.
Respected Washington Post columnist David Broder also received an ethics award at the conference. He was cited for lifetime achievement.