It was the beginning of the end - Of journalistic integrity, that is.
I was living in Tampa, Florida in 1997 when the local buzz involved a pair of reporters working for WTVT, the local FOX affiliate television station. The story revolved around the use of Monsanto's bovine growth hormone (BGH), which was in widespread use within the state.
The investigative reporters were essentially bribed, and then threatened with termination if they refused to clam-up concerning the negative health effects resulting from BGH's use; threats to both cattle and humans who consume the subsequent dairy products. The reporters took issue with the stations "against the public interest" stance and filed suit against the TV station under the WhistleBlower statutes of Florida. Although the pair were initially awarded damages of $425,000 in the Florida Superior Court, the FOX affiliate appealed to the 2nd District Appellate Court and the lower court's ruling was overturned.
In a stunningly narrow interpretation of FCC rules, the Florida Appeals court claimed that the FCC policy against falsification of the news does not rise to the level of a "law, rule, or regulation," it was simply a "policy." Therefore, it is up to the station whether or not it wants to report honestly.
FOX subsequently filed motions in the Tampa District Court for damages of 1.7 million for "legal fees and costs".
This is the legal precedent which opened the door to the rampant media propaganda machines and blatant misuse of the "public airwaves" which exists today. As a result, we now have 5 major media giants, empowered by this favorable ruling issued by a GOP stuffed court, who control almost all of our nation's news. Corporations whose views on journalistic integrity are best explained by the argument used during FOX's appeal, wherein they asserted that there are no written rules against distorting news in the media. They argued that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves. Fox attorneys did not dispute the reporter’s claims that they pressured them to broadcast a false story, they simply maintained that it was their right to do so.
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