By ERIC DEGGANS
News leads TV through an ethical maze
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 7, 1998
on a dairy hormone
When investigative reporters Steve Wilson and Jane Akre were fired by
Fox affiliate WTVT-Ch. 13 last year, the journalists (who are husband and
wife) said the station was trying to take the teeth out of their report
on Posilac, a hormone made by chemical giant Monsanto and given to cows
to spur milk production.
In early April the couple sued WTVT, saying executives ordered them
to lie in stories about the hormone and fired them when they threatened
to tell the Federal Communications Commission about inaccuracies that management
insisted that they edit into the story.
WTVT aired a series on Posilac on May 20, 21 and 22 assembled by its
new investigative reporter, Nathan Lang -- an effort station managers said
refuted any allegations that they tried to bury the story.
But Wilson and Akre maintain that Lang's evenhanded report did exactly
what they had resisted, toning down allegations of unethical practices
by Monsanto and the dairy industry to reduce the likelihood of litigation.
"It's good that WTVT raised this issue," offers Wilson, who says he
still plans to file a complaint with the FCC over material in Lang's stories
that the station knew was incorrect (broadcasting material that you know
is false is a violation of FCC rules). "But (Lang) did many of the things
we refused to do."
Indeed, there are several charges in the Akre-Wilson stories that Lang's
series did not mention: information that Monsanto had sued to stop ecologically
conscious companies from labeling its milk as free from the synthetic hormone;
allegations that grocery chains misled customers about their efforts to
avoid selling milk from treated cows; and Monsanto's history of manufacturing
government-approved products that later proved harmful, such as Agent Orange.
Lang's report took a different slant, detailing the concerns of both
the hormone's critics and supporters.
Phil Metlin, vice president of news for WTVT, says Lang had trouble
verifying some aspects of the Akre-Wilson report and did not offer a definitive
conclusion on the issue because there isn't one.
"We're covering both sides here . . . (because) there is no smoking
gun," Metlin says. "People should be made aware of this substance, but
nobody knows" if it is dangerous.
In the end, it may take a court of law and the FCC to decide who's right.
One hopes that, for milk drinkers everywhere, the conclusion doesn't come
To reach Eric Deggans, call 893-8521, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or see
the Times Web site at http://www.sptimes.com.
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