...but how do we know this is true?

Appellate Court Rules Media Can Legally Lie

On February 14, a Florida Appeals court ruled there is absolutely nothing illegal about lying, concealing or distorting information by a major press organization. The court reversed the $425,000 jury verdict in favor of journalist Jane Akre who charged she was pressured by Fox Television management and lawyers to air what she knew and documented to be false information. The ruling basically declares it is technically not against any law, rule, or regulation to deliberately lie or distort the news on a television broadcast.

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On August 18, 2000, a six-person jury was unanimous in its conclusion that Akre was indeed fired for threatening to report the station's pressure to broadcast what jurors decided was "a false, distorted, or slanted" story about the widespread use of growth hormone in dairy cows. The court did not dispute the heart of Akre's claim, that Fox pressured her to broadcast a false story to protect the broadcaster from having to defend the truth in court, as well as suffer the ire of irate advertisers.

Fox argued from the first, and failed on three separate occasions, in front of three different judges, to have the case tossed out on the grounds there is no hard, fast, and written rule against deliberate distortion of the news. The attorneys for Fox, owned by media baron Rupert Murdock, argued the First Amendment gives broadcasters the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves.

In its six-page written decision, the Court of Appeals held that the Federal Communications Commission position against news distortion is only a "policy," not a promulgated law, rule, or regulation.

Fox aired a report after the ruling saying it was "totally vindicated" by the verdict.

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9 Responses:

  1. sachmet says:

    If I were CNN, I'd run with this. They are trying to beat Fox News on credibility at this point, and more people trust CNN before Fox. It's because of things like this that makes me take anything I see on Fox with a grain of salt.

  2. gordonzola says:

    I have a copy of the original news series on rBGH that the fox affiliate refused to run that resulted in this lawsuit. It is amazing un-sensationalist and I would argue that if anything it gives Monsanto et al. too much airtime to present their side.

    "Fox totally vindicated," Fox News reports . . .

    I think I'll go to the mall and buy an anti-war t-shirt.

  3. flipzagging says:

    People are allowed to lie. As we all know, corporations are people, only more so. QED. ;)

    Seriously though I think this ruling just says that there's a vacuum in the law. Maybe one that can't be filled without seriously abridging freedom of speech.

    Here in Soviet Canuckistan, there is a "false news" section of the Criminal Code but prosecutions have been extremely rare. It's very hard to prove somebody didn't believe what they disseminated. It's been used, somewhat dubiously IMO, to prosecute some Nazi pamphleteers.

    • jwz says:

      Well, people aren't always allowed to lie; e.g., freedom of speech doesn't mean you can say "I didn't mean it" to get out of a contract. But you're right that this is bound to be a tricky area of the law.

      • avva says:

        Sure you can. It just won't help you, is all.

      • flipzagging says:

        Maybe the theory was, that a newspaper exposed as falsifying facts would be swiftly judged in the marketplace. So you don't need a law as long as a) people care b) there's freedom of the press c) there's vigorous competition in the media

        Is it too cynical to believe that we're in the !(a || b || c) case?

        • omnifarious says:

          My mom, an otherwise very bright person, loves Fox News. She thinks they report things as they _really_ are because their 'slant' agrees with her politics. Now, I doubt this will change her mind. I'm sure she will endlessly defend their credibility, but I have to send it to her anyway.

          I think Fox News is a little worse than most news organizations in this regard, but I don't really think any of them are immune. I just wish they all would flat out admit their agenda instead of feigning 'objectivity'.

          In a similar vein, when people criticize Slashdot for bad or biased journalism, I immediately mark them as being clueless. Slashdot editors make no attempt to hide their biases and opinions. Slashdot has no pretentions to objective journalism, or even journalism at all. These people are just idiots who want to hold Slashdot to an ideal that it doesn't have even the faintest pretense of. I think of them as people who want someone else to do all the hard thinking for them, and if that's what they want, they deserve what they get.