If you thought the media reported health news, this video may make you think again. Watch what happened when two reporters tried to highlight the risks, posed to human health, by the presence of artificial bovine growth hormones in milk. It may surprise some of you to learn what happened when the news did not suit the network.
Steve Wilson and Jane Akre: 2001 Goldman Prize winners, USA
In late 1996, journalists Jane Akre and Steve Wilson began investigating rBGH, the genetically modified growth hormone American dairies had been injecting into their cows. As investigative reporters for the Fox Television affiliate in Tampa, Florida, they discovered that while the hormone had been banned in Canada, Europe and most other countries, millions of Americans were unknowingly drinking milk from rBGH-treated cows.
The duo documented how the hormone, which can harm cows, was approved by the government as a veterinary drug without adequately testing its effects on children and adults who drink rBGH milk. They also uncovered studies linking its effects to cancer in humans. Just before broadcast, the station canceled the widely promoted reports after Monsanto, the hormone manufacturer, threatened Fox News with “dire consequences” if the stories aired.
Under pressure from Fox lawyers, the husband-and-wife team rewrote the story more than 80 times. After threats of dismissal and offers of six-figure sums to drop their ethical objections and keep quiet, they were fired in December 1997.
In 1998, Akre won a suit against Fox for violating Florida’s Whistleblower Law, which makes it illegal to retaliate against a worker who threatens to reveal employer misconduct. However, they were forced to defend the $425,000 awarded to Akre through the appeals process.
Meanwhile, with their assets drained, neither Akre nor Wilson was able to work full-time in television news. Instead they formed a production company to expose environmental and health news that is increasingly ignored by mainstream media.
Goldman Environmental Foundation
One might hope that this would be a very isolated example, but there can be no doubt that those who can report the news, must decide which of a multitude of stories they will report, and the terms in which they do so. The problem is not that such choices are made, but who is able to influence them, without being held to account. When we watch, listen to, or read the news, we must remember that we are part of a target audience, but we must not be passive recipients of the news. Understanding requires more than information, it requires clear thinking.
If you do not question everything around you, your mind will be filled with multitudes of emptiness; without questions, no answers can exist and understanding is impossible.