Husband-and-wife reporters Steve Wilson and Jane Akre brought out an Emmy and activist consumer- advocate and presidential candidate Ralph Nader as they accused Fox-owned wtvt (tv) Tampa, Fla., in court of bowing to corporate pressure over an investigative piece about tainted milk. Wilson and Akre claim that, after promoting them as hard-hitting investigative reporters, the station fired them for refusing to include misleading information on a story that said Florida dairy cows were being fed a potentially dangerous Monsanto-made hormone, after Monsanto had its lawyers pressure Fox.
Monsanto and FOX have denied the charges, and FOX counters that Wilson and Akre were uncooperative employees, were committed to an unfair piece and refused suggestions that would have improved the piece. Taking a break from presidential campaigning, Nader did not attest to the truthfulness of Wilson and Akre's charges but told the court that stations that distort facts under pressure from an advertiser or other corporation violate FCC rules and the station's public trust. He also described Wilson-who is representing himself and showed one of his Emmys to the jury when the trial began-and Akre as top reporters. A trust run by Nader's family has honored the reporters for their fight against FOX. Outside the courtroom, Nader said Monsanto has a history of pressuring journalists through lawyer's letters, according to local reports.
Star testimony is also expected-on tape-from CBS News icon Walter Cronkite, who will address not the facts of the case but the duty of reporters to fight the kinds of pressures alleged by Wilson and Akre. Earlier in the week, Akre, who has a lawyer, responded to charges of bias and spoke of Fox's alleged efforts to pressure her. Wilson told Broadcasting & Cable last week that he thought the early going went well for his side and that he and Akre had already achieved a victory of sorts: "We got to court. We did what everybody said we couldn't do."