Fired Fox-TV Journalists Win Goldman Environmental Prize
This article was first published as "Fired Fox-TV Journalists Win Goldman Environmental Prize", PR Watch, Volume 5, No. 2, Second Quarter 2001. The original article was authored by John Stauber and is used here with permission. As with all SourceWatch articles, feel free to edit and revise.
PR Watch first reported on Akre and Wilson in Monsanto and Fox: Partners in Censorship, which details how they were fired in December 1997 by Tampa station WTVT after the Monsanto company objected to their investigative report on the company's controversial genetically modified product, recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). Our fourth quarter 2000 issue carried a story by Akre on their difficulties finding work since their firing ("The Cost of Taking a Stand").
Akre and Wilson say their former station did not merely suppress their report but repeatedly ordered them to "broadcast demonstrably inaccurate and dishonest versions of the story." In August 2000, a Florida jury awarded Akre $425,000 in damages under the state's whistleblower law, concluding that she had been fired "because she threatened to disclose to the Federal Communications Commission under oath, in writing, the broadcast of a false, distorted, or slanted news report which she reasonably believed would violate the prohibition against intentional falsification or distortion of the news on television." The station has appealed the jury verdict, a process which is expected to take years before Akre can hope to actually receive payment. In the meantime, the husband-and-wife team remains unemployed.
Akre says the Goldman award, which includes a prize of $125,000, is welcome not only as recognition for their efforts on behalf of the environment, but also because it will enable them to continue their legal battle with Fox and Monsanto, and also "to continue to produce documentaries and other projects to bring attention to genetically engineered foods, the state of the American media, and other important issues that the mainstream press is just not covering any more."
The Goldman Environmental Prize has sometimes been termed a "Nobel Prize for grassroots work" that calls attention to a significant environmental issue. Founded and funded in 1990 by San Francisco philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman, the prize annually distributes cash bequests to six of the planet's most deserving "environmental heroes." Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a network of over 20 environmental organizations and individuals representing nearly 50 nations. Akre and Wilson are the first journalists to ever win the award.
Other recipients who received the award on April 21 of this year included a Rwandan who crusaded to save his country's last 355 mountain gorillas, a Greek biologist who brought feuding nations together to save a fragile ecosystem, and an indigenous woman in Indonesia who fought the destructive mining activities of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.
"We are both incredibly humbled by this honor," Akre and Wilson said in receiving their award, "especially after spending the last few days meeting the other winners selected from each of the other five inhabited continents on Earth."
Akre and Wilson have publicized their case through their own website (www.foxbghsuit.com), but their story has been largely ignored by the mainstream news media. News of their Goldman award has also received minimal coverage, and the few stories that have appeared usually omit any mention of either Monsanto or the Fox network. News of their award has been ignored altogether by the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Perhaps the most remarkable headline regarding their case appeared in an Associated Press story on April 23, which stated, "TV Press Win Environmental Award." To a casual reader, it might appear that the Goldman award had gone to the news media itself, notwithstanding the fact that since their firing, Akre and Wilson are no longer part of the "TV press," and their story has never been broadcast.