Thursday, April 8, 1999 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | PREVIOUS: Whose Millennium?
1999-04-08

Banana Journalism

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Latin America’s major banana producers praised the World Trade Organization’s ruling yesterday against European Union banana import policies as a victory in what has been known for the past 10 years as the "banana war."

In a case brought by the United States and five Latin American nations, a panel of World Trade Organization experts ruled that quotas imposed by the EU on the importation of bananas to the region are not acceptable. According to the panel, such policies favor former European colonies in the Caribbean over Latin American producers, and give preference to European distributors over U.S. companies. The ruling said that the EU would have to change these policies.

The United States also praised the decision, which will benefit its large fruit companies, among which is the banana giant Chiquita, formerly known as United Fruit Company. This week, a reporter who conducted a year-long multimillion-dollar investigation into Chiquita’s business practices went to court in a case that could have huge implications for investigative journalism.

The reporter, Michael Gallagher, published an extensive story last May in the Cincinnati Enquirer citing serious evidence that Chiquita engages in questionable practices in Latin America. According to the findings, Chiquita secretly controlled dozens of supposedly independent banana companies, engaged in pesticide practices that threaten the health of workers and residents nearby, was involved in a bribery scheme in Colombia and used brute force against banana workers. In addition, its CEO Carl Lindner also gave controversial political contributions.

This reporter, however, could now be sent to prison for having illegally accessed the company’s voice mail system. After this was revealed, the Cincinnati Enquirer fired Gallagher, apologized to Chiquita on its front page and paid the company $10 million. Gallagher plead guilty last September to felony charges and is awaiting sentencing that could range from probation to two and a half years in prison.

In the line of fire now is George Ventura, a former Chiquita lawyer who Gallagher this week named as his confidential source, and as the person who provided him with the access codes to Chiquita’s voice mail system. In an effort to have 10 felony charges dismissed against his client, Ventura’s attorney argued in court this week that reporters are legally bound to their sources and cannot give up their identities. If he is tried and convicted, Ventura could face up to twelve and a half years in prison.

Guests:

  • Mark Mezidov, attorney for former Chiquita executive George Ventura, who has been named as a source by reporter Mike Gallagher. Speaking from Cincinnati, OH.
  • Sandra Davidson, media attorney and Professor of Communications at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She was an expert witness in a court hearing this week on whether Gallagher could reveal his confidential source at trial, or whether "shield laws" would prevent him from doing this. Speaking from Columbia, Missouri.
  • Larry Burns, with the Council for Hemispheric Affairs. He was contacted by Gallagher before he published the story, and the reporter played one of the Chiquita voice mails for him in which executives from the company conspired to keep information from him.

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