Coronavirus pandemic prompts increased transparency of drug companies

The unprecedented nature of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic has begun to influence the transparency of drug company trials of potential COVID-19 vaccines.

On September 17th The New York Times reported that Moderna and Pfizer were releasing the protocols that describe the trial process to test a potential COVID-19 vaccine. On September 19th they reported that AstraZeneca had done the same. This heralds a significant change on the part of drug companies. Although in practice complex vaccine trial protocols would need to be interpreted by say, science journalists, in order to be understood by the wider public particularly given the multicultural nature of today’s communities in developed nations.  [See references below for protocols]

As trials have progressed to Phase III in which data on the safety and efficacy of vaccines are collated, the interest of the public has grown significantly. Intense media attention surrounded the recent pause of the Phase III trial of the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca in partnership with scientists from Oxford University. Not surprisingly public interest has turned to pressure for more transparency as to how trials are conducted.

From July 24th to August 7th Ipsos surveyed respondents from 27 countries [PDF] on attitudes toward a COVID-19 vaccine. 74% of respondents said they would have a vaccine if it was available. The most common reason for rejecting the vaccine was concern over side effects (56%). This was followed by doubt of its effectiveness (29%). The importance of transparency surrounding Phase III trials is confirmed by the weight of these two reasons for rejecting the vaccine.

These vaccines are being developed rapidly under the gaze of a public that expects at some time to be given such a vaccine. It’s understandable that anxiety surrounding both efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines existed long before the specifics of Phase III trials became public. That those specifics have become better understood due to an issue with safety does raise matters of trust within the public.

Of course the increased attention over safety and efficacy would never have arisen during development of the many so-called “alternatives” to regulated vaccines. Alternative products are not subject to reliable scrutiny and as such the acute and chronic effects are in fact undocumented or unknown. The safety and efficacy of such listed (as opposed to regulated) therapeutic products is almost always merely assumed.

Establishing trust between the public and the government and health authorities is important. Increased transparency of vaccine trials will help promote trust. Sustaining trust is significantly reliant on clear information and explanation of complicated issues that raise public concern. This is particularly true in the present environment where changing evidence may come across as inconsistency and if left unacknowledged may lead to suspicion. The proper interpretation and presentation of available information is essential.

Normally data gathered during a trial are published after the trial. However the dynamic nature of COVID-19 vaccine development and the global impact of this pandemic have already changed what may be considered normal. Added to this is information that is leaking out. The Oxford trial has recommenced on the advice of an independent safety committee. AstraZeneca announced that they “had not confirmed a diagnosis” of transverse myelitis in the study volunteer.

What has also recently become apparent is that the study was paused in July after a male volunteer who had received one dose of the vaccine developed transverse myelitis. See page 10 of this participant information sheet. There was a review by independent experts. The trial resumed after it was determined that the individual had a previously undiagnosed case of multiple sclerosis unrelated to the vaccine. Still, there was a persistent concern that AstraZeneca had not revealed in detail what had happened to the woman whose significant neurological symptoms led to the most recent trial pause.

On the September 14th edition of The Health Report Dr. Norman Swan interviewed Professor Bruce Neal, Executive Director of the George Institute Australia. The occasion was to discuss the launch of a project called Join Us. A challenging issue about Phase III trials is that drug or vaccine development may stall or fail due to lack of suitable participants. This isn’t due to drop out or resistance. Rather the cost and administrative difficulty of finding suitable participants is significant. Join Us aims to secure pre-consent to trials of a certain nature.

Whilst that’s interesting information about trials, Swan also asked Professor Neal about his thoughts on the reluctance of AstraZeneca to reveal details about the woman responsible for the second pause of the Phase III trial. Neal considered reasons to release more information. It would give a heads up to other researchers around the globe allowing them to “provide input and information into it”. However he also noted that releasing such information midway through a trial may have negative consequences.

There may be confidentiality issues as such a “severe unusual event” might lead to patient identity being leaked. Perhaps most interestingly was the observation that the trial may well end with a conclusion that the event was not an issue related to the vaccine. By then the damage is done. The public have already internalised the notion of a negative side effect. The media effort to reverse that belief is not likely to be successful.

Professor Neal stated;

And so the media surrounding the announcement of something like that is going to retain much more prominence probably than the media that tries to reel that back in and say, look, actually it wasn’t an issue. And that could have ramifications down the track when you try to get people to take the vaccine.

It’s important to note that the FDA has not allowed the AstraZeneca trial to resume in the US. The National Institutes of Health stated that it remains to be seen if the illnesses are coincidental and that, “pausing to allow for further evaluation is consistent with standard practice”.

Understandably some health professionals in the US remain concerned. Whilst investors were told of the second problem it has become clear that the company did not immediately alert the F.D.A. and advise them of the independent safety board’s recommendation to pause the trial. Virologist Dr. Peter Jay Hotez based at Houston’s Baylor college of Medicine has not been impressed. He claimed communication has been “horrible and unacceptable” citing the failure of UK regulators to provide rationale for resumption of the trial.

The New York Times also reported;

Dr. Paul Offit, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the F.D.A.’s advisory committee on vaccines, said that it’s unclear how the company — or the U.K. government — determined that the second case was not related to the vaccine.

Offit has also noted that the rarity of transverse myelitis in the general public has not been reflected in the UK trial population. The extra caution we are seeing in the US is reason for the public to have increased confidence in the influence regulators have over the safety of vaccine trials. Consequently there is reason for the public to be less anxious about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines that are eventually marketed. Given that independent safety experts in the UK have advised it is safe for the Oxford trial to resume it will be very interesting to see what further evaluation by US authorities concludes.

There has been research into immunisation and the likelihood of subsequent development of transverse myelitis (TM) and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). Key points from the 2016 paper Acute Demyelinating Events Following Vaccines: A Case-Centered Analysis are as follows;

Results: Following nearly 64 million vaccine doses, only 7 cases of TM and 8 cases of ADEM were vaccinated during the primary exposure window 5-28 days prior to onset. For TM, there was no statistically significant increased risk of immunization. For ADEM, there was no statistically significant increased risk following any vaccine except for Tdap (adolescent and adult tetanus, reduced diphtheria, acellular pertussis) vaccine. […]

Conclusions: We found no association between TM and prior immunization. There was a possible association of ADEM with Tdap vaccine, but the excess risk is not likely to be more than 1.16 cases of ADEM per million vaccines administered.

Acknowledging vaccine safety concerns as a cause of vaccine hesitancy, in July this year Nicola Principi and Susanna Esposito published a narrative review, Do Vaccines Have a Role as a Cause Of Autoimmune Neurological Syndromes?

The authors wrote in part in their abstract;

Only well-conducted epidemiological studies with adequate evaluation of results can clarify whether a true association between vaccines and adverse event development truly exists. Autoimmune neurological syndromes that follow vaccine use are among these. […]

Literature analysis showed that most of the associations between vaccines and nervous system autoimmune syndromes that have been reported as severe adverse events following immunization are no longer evidenced when well-conducted epidemiological studies are carried out. Although the rarity of autoimmune diseases makes it difficult to strictly exclude that, albeit exceptionally, some vaccines may induce an autoimmune neurological disease, no definitive demonstration of a potential role of vaccines in causing autoimmune neurological syndromes is presently available. Consequently, the fear of neurological autoimmune disease cannot limit the use of the most important preventive measure presently available against infectious diseases.

The Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University logically argues that a number of vaccines “may prevent transverse myelitis”. The institute published Do Vaccines Cause Transverse Myelitis? Last updated September 18th 2020 the article opens with the conclusion;

Natural viral infections with influenza, hepatitis A, measles, mumps and rubella and varicella have all been associated with myelitis, albeit rarely. Thus, these viral vaccines may prevent transverse myelitis by protecting against natural infection. Vaccines currently routinely recommended to the general population in the U.S. have not been shown to cause transverse myelitis.

Ultimately this research in conjunction with the cautious US approach at present does not support a contention of general recklessness in the production of this vaccine or of other potential COVID-19 vaccines.

This dynamic provides yet another blow to anti-vaccination conspiracies. Namely the contention that there is collusion between drug companies and health regulators to suppress the supposedly inherent dangers of vaccines that anti-vaxxers wrongly insist lead to an abundance of vaccine injuries. More so Dr. Paul Offit has been derided, verbally attacked and threatened by the global anti-vaccine lobby for many years as a callous profiteer of vaccines. Yet he has constantly raised a voice of caution to ensure safe COVID-19 vaccine development.

It is certain that placing the AstraZeneca trial on hold following advice from the F.D.A. is not a unique event. Rather the fact that measures employed to control the current pandemic are being played out before the public in real time has provided insight into events that are usually ignored. In the previous post I listed some other aspects of anti-vaccine conspiracy that simply cannot be sustained following media reports of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Phase III trial pause. Even cursory attention to the details of this trial has exposed the dishonesty of anti-vaxxer claims.

Well before the trial pause led to media attention, public anxiety and now transparency of drug companies, the importance of trust in accepting a COVID-19 vaccine had been raised in Australia. Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a significant mistake with respect to public confidence in vaccine development and uptake. In August he announced that Australia had signed a deal to produce the vaccine being developed at Oxford University if Phase III trials were successful.

His mistake was to add that it would be “as mandatory as you can possibly make it”. Morrison realised the mistake and in under a day had produced the anticipated walk back. Nonetheless the many anti-science and anti-reason groups that are feverishly misrepresenting the motives of governments and health authorities during this pandemic were delighted. Within hours of Morrison’s announcement the AVN published a video mocking the notion of “safe and effective” vaccines whilst contending they “had always known this was coming”.

There were of course no “walk backs” from the AVN when Morrison corrected his position. Pushing fear of mandatory vaccination has always translated to profit for this group and Scott Morrison had done them a favour. Say no to mandatory vaccination read the back of a T-Shirt weeks later in Perth during Australia-wide “solidarity” rallies. Messages on social media continue in the same vein. Still, the reality is that messages and memes on mandatory vaccination would be common had Scott Morrison made no such statement.

Any harm done to the uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine in Australia is likely negligible. A survey conducted in April found that just under 86% of Australians aged over 18 would get a COVID-19 vaccine. 4.9% would not whilst 9.4% were indifferent. These figures are promising but were collated before the widely publicised pause in the AstraZeneca trial and increased public reflection on the safety of a COVID-19 vaccine. Survey responses were to the statement, If a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, I will get it.

Ipsos published their global attitudes results on September 1st, indicating an 88% uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine in Australia. 59% strongly agree and 28% somewhat agree with the statement, If a vaccine for COVID-19 were available, I would get it. Only China and Brazil were more likely to accept a vaccine. These figures were also collated before the pause in the AstraZeneca trial. Follow this link to read Key Findings for Australia.

Another area that’s causing anxiety is the posturing of Donald Trump toward authorising a COVID-19 vaccine before the upcoming election. Consider the measure of Trump for a moment. He will tempt the voters with the promise of a vaccine in weeks. However it is more realistic to expect a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine in months. These promises demand a disregard for vaccine safety. Yet in March 2014 Trump was tweeting in support of the mythical vaccine/autism link, a bogus view that bemoans a lack of vaccine safety. After the last election, research fraud and vaccine/autism profiteer Andrew Wakefield attended an inaugural ball from which he posted a social media video calling for an overhaul of the CDC.

Others have long ago considered the measure of Trump in regard to the election and a COVID-19 vaccine promise. In early June University of Pennsylvania professors Dr. Paul Offit and Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times entitled Could Trump turn a vaccine into a campaign stunt?

It included;

In a desperate search for a boost, he could release a coronavirus vaccine that has not been shown to be safe and effective as an October surprise. […]

Given how this president has behaved, this incredibly dangerous scenario is not far-fetched. In a desperate search for a political boost, he could release a coronavirus vaccine before it had been thoroughly tested and shown to be safe and effective. […]

Thousands of Americans have already died as Donald Trump has perpetually postponed effective public health interventions and made poor therapeutic recommendations. We must be on alert to prevent him from corrupting the rigorous assessment of safety and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines in order to pull an October vaccine surprise to try to win re-election.

At the beginning of the second week of September the CEOs of nine drug companies, arguably competing in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, signed a pledge to stand with science and not launch such a vaccine until it met “high ethical standards and sound scientific principles”. The pledge statement as it appears on Pfizers website is in references below. It came at a time when public health specialists and scientists expressed concern that the Trump administration was pressuring regulators to authorise a vaccine before the November 3rd election.

The New York Times reported;

The joint statement by competitors was seen as an effort to restore public trust as President Trump has pushed for a vaccine before the presidential election.

An out-take from the pledge from Pfizer’s website is as follows;

Following guidance from expert regulatory authorities such as FDA regarding the development of COVID-19 vaccines, consistent with existing standards and practices, and in the interest of public health, we pledge to:

  • Always make the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals our top priority.
  • Continue to adhere to high scientific and ethical standards regarding the conduct of clinical trials and the rigor of manufacturing processes.
  • Only submit for approval or emergency use authorization after demonstrating safety and efficacy through a Phase 3 clinical study that is designed and conducted to meet requirements of expert regulatory authorities such as FDA.
  • Work to ensure a sufficient supply and range of vaccine options, including those suitable for global access.

We believe this pledge will help ensure public confidence in the rigorous scientific and regulatory process by which COVID-19 vaccines are evaluated and may ultimately be approved.

Yes to the cynical eye this may seem to present the pharmaceutical CEOs as really great guys. However I recommend reading the entire Biopharma Leaders Unite pledge. More to the point with increased transparency the public and the media have an invested interest to see a suitable outcome here. This pledge is certainly a step up from Fauci saying he has “confidence and some faith” that the COVID-19 vaccine approval won’t be political.

Earlier in the year it was reported that a significant number of Americans are likely to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine. A robust anti-vaccination lobby and rising numbers of the vaccine hesitant mean that the number of Americans who accept the vaccine may be insufficient to sustain herd immunity, which may require between 50 – 70% of the population to be immune. The more recent Ipsos survey found 67% of US citizens would have the vaccine.

Exactly how many must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity is still uncertain. The WHO suggest 95%. Mathematical modelling reflecting age and social activity level produces a herd immunity “illustration” as low as 43%. Other reports suggest a vaccine uptake of over 70% is needed. The Mayo clinic point out that reaching this level of immunity through infection and not vaccination would overwhelm the health system and cause millions of deaths.

Thus there is ample reason to hope greater transparency of vaccine trials leads to justified improved confidence in the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and increased uptake. Of course given the speed of current COVID-19 vaccine trials let us also hope that the vaccines that make it to market are extremely safe and splendidly effective. The fewer challenges that accompany immunisation on a global scale the better.

Another area that is getting more scrutiny if not exactly transparency is that of vaccine nationalism. This term refers to agreements between governments and vaccine manufacturers that ensure developed nations have secure access to vaccines for their entire population before they are available for other nations. With COVID-19 this may result in a delay in vaccinating health workers in developing nations, individuals at high risk of severe disease or death and those living in a region of a sudden dangerous cluster.

COVID-19 is a global pandemic. Yet we are faced with a situation where wealthy nations will be able to vaccinate their populations whilst countries that rely on aid organisations will be unable to vaccinate health workers and at-risk populations without organised help. A recent Science Friction podcast looks at the ways in which this problem can be combated. Australia’s Friends of Science in Medicine actively support equitable access to “COVID-19 vaccines and related health technologies”.

No doubt the anti-vaccine lobby will use information in the trial protocols in the same way they use vaccine package inserts. Thanks to exceptional cognitive dissonance they will list reasons as to why information from vaccine manufacturers can’t be trusted whilst using that same information to defend these reasons. The good news is that as we’ve seen, increased transparency and media attention has exposed tenets of anti-vaccine conspiracy and beliefs as vacuous and fallacious. On these points it’s a case of watch this space.

In conclusion it can be seen that the increase in transparency of COVID-19 vaccine development should indeed serve to increase public trust and confidence in the quality of eligible vaccines. I cannot finish without stressing again that the safety and efficacy elements of Phase III trials do not apply to the raft of concoctions marketed as alternatives to medicine. All consumers should seek reputable sources of information and beware of the many hoax “cures” of COVID-19. Discuss any novel plans to manage or prevent COVID-19 with a registered medical practitioner.

Finally whilst the importance of transparency with respect to vaccine trials has become clear, it was also confirmed by the Ipsos global survey on attitudes to a COVID-19 vaccine. The most common reasons for intending to refuse a vaccine are safety followed by efficacy. The establishment of which is the very aim of Phase III trials.


REFERENCES

Phase 3 clinical trial of investigational vaccine for COVID-19 begins

Moderna Clinical Trial Protocol – SARS-CoV-2 vaccine

Pfizer Clinical Trial Protocol – SARS-CoV-2 RNA vaccine

AstraZeneca Clinical Trial Protocol – COVID-19 vaccine

Oxford Vaccine Trials – Participant Information Sheet: COV002 (July 2020)

Oxford Vaccine Trials – Participant Information Sheet: COV002 (Sept. 2020)

Willingness to vaccinate against COVID-19 in Australia

9 in 10 Australians say they would get vaccinated for COVID-19 – Ipsos

Global attitudes on a COVID-19 vaccine – Ipsos [PDF]

A future vaccination campaign against COVID-19 at risk of vaccine hesitancy and politicisation

Biopharma Leaders Unite To Stand With Science – Pfizer

Moderna and Pfizer reveal secret blueprints for coronavirus vaccine trials – NYT

AstraZeneca under fire for vaccine safety releases trial blueprints – NYT

Do Vaccines Cause Transverse Myelitis? – Institute for Vaccine Safety, John Hopkins University Dept. of International Health

Acute demyelinating events following vaccines: a case-centered analysis
– DOI: 10.1093/cid/ciw607

Do vaccines have a role as a cause of autoimmune neurological syndromes?
– DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2020.00361

FSM supports equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines

Vaccine nationalism threatens global plan to distribute COVID-19 shots fairly

The rise of vaccine nationalism – should we be worried? – ABC Podcast

Herd Immunity: Understanding COVID-19 – DOI: 10.1016/j.immuni.2020.04.012

Wearing masks does not cause staphylococcus infection or CO2 toxicity

On August 20th I was passing through AVN Facebook territory and noticed the image below had been posted in the comments section of a post citing a Daily Telegraph news article. The article was about the likelihood of a free COVID-19 vaccine in Australia.

It included this shin kick for anti-vaxxers;

Can there be anything more satisfying than the dangerous, hypocritical and unspeakably cruel anti-vaxxer mob in full self-combust mode at news that the rest of us — the sensible Australians — are delighted to hear?
The only national glimmer of hope in this coronavirus war on our bodies, livelihoods and mental health has been the promise of a free vaccine available eventually to all Australians, writes Louise Roberts

The post urged readers to include their thoughts. One of which was this image;

image falsely linking skin conditions to mask wearing

Fake “Mask Induced Staphylococcus” scam

Firstly the claim of lung infections and loss of consciousness due to restricted airflow from masks has been debunked. This claim as pushed on social media relies on the belief that masks cause CO2 toxicity, known as hypercapnia.

In very, very rare cases with an open wound and a dirty mask contaminated with staph bacteria one may develop a staphylococcus infection from masks. Nonetheless, what’s important is dealing with the claim in the context of the images above. Simply put the claim is that these are examples of “staphylococcus from masks”.

This claim of staphylococcus infection from masks is as offensive as it is bogus. It is a textbook example of what goes wrong when one trusts social media as a source of news or facts. Particularly social media outlets of groups that use the term “fake news” to describe genuine media presenting facts they disagree with. Yes indeed, verily this describes the Australian Vaccination-risks Network.

Staphylococcus infection is described by the Mayo Clinic in these opening paragraphs as follows;

Staph infections are caused by staphylococcus bacteria, types of germs commonly found on the skin or in the nose of even healthy individuals. Most of the time, these bacteria cause no problems or result in relatively minor skin infections.

But staph infections can turn deadly if the bacteria invade deeper into your body, entering your bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart. A growing number of otherwise healthy people are developing life-threatening staph infections.

The article continues to list symptoms, types of infections, causes, invasive devices and treatment.

Merck Manual also has an excellent article by Larry Bush M.D. which was updated just over a year ago. The important point here is that consulting articles on staph infection reveals facts specific to the diseases that result and the lack of any information confirming that the wearing of surgical masks is responsible. So this nonsense is predetermined disinformation designed to sabotage public health measures.

When it comes to challenging an image “collage” like the above taking a screenshot of each image and doing a reverse image search via Google or TinEye yields ample insight into the mind of COVID-19 conspiracy promoters. Taking the middle right image we find pages of results devoted to articles on exhausted doctors wearing PPE and working long hours during the height of Italy’s struggle with COVID-19. The initial post of Italian nurse Valeria Zedde was made by her on Instagram. Other photos capturing the impact of long term PPE use can be found online including these on Twitter.
italian doctor after long shift with covid patients

Italian nurse after hours wearing PPE

The face above the hard working nurse is from a Wikipedia post on Eczema herpeticum. This infection may be caused by a herpes simplex virus, coxsackievirus or vaccinia virus. The image file was uploaded on April 11th 2018 as is clear on this Wikimedia commons page. The image is cropped in the scam staphylococcus collage above to give the appearance of a mask infliction but more importantly to hide the eyes which help confirm this child is certainly under five years of age.

The WHO have published a Q&A on children and mask wearing due to COVID-19. They clearly state;

In general, children aged 5 years and under should not be required to wear masks.

Ah well, nice try. Still, no amount of cropping can hide the fact this image was uploaded 18 months before the first case of COVID-19 in Wuhan in December 2019.

Eczema herpeticum on childs face

Eczema Herpeticum

On the subject of cropped images we can trace the image at bottom right to an article in Medical News Today describing Malar rash. In the case of this subject the rash is caused by a condition known as rosacea. More so the lady appears in a large number of Alamy stock photos with a caption plainly stating her condition is rosacea characterised by facial redness, small and superficial dilated blood vessels.

Whilst determining the exact origin of Malar rash is difficult due to a large number of candidate causes, turning into a strange looking case of staphylococcus due to wearing a surgical mask is not one.

case of malar rash

Malar Rash – Source Medical News Today

The condition in the image at bottom left may well have been determined by you as the case of varicella (chicken pox) that it is. The Getty images iStock photo also appears on Pinterest with no watermark where anyone with an account can take a screenshot of the image at not cost.

It’s interesting that with this image the cropped version used in the scam collage also removes any helpful identifying features to help one conclude this is a young child.

child with chicken pox pimples/varicella

Chicken Pox / Varicella pimples on female child

The final image is the one at top left. In fact this image is the only one that may have substance. The French teenager in the image claims to have had an allergic reaction to wearing a sheet mask for a prolonged period of time.

With help from Google Translate we see that Le Monde newspaper reported;

According to the mother, the 12-year-old wore a sheet mask for several hours on vacation: “This is the first time she has worn this mask provided by her college for so long. We went on a camping holiday for a week, and the mask was mandatory in closed areas, so she had to put it on every day”. […]

Beware of hasty conclusions, however. “There may be intolerance reactions to the mask that are not allergic reactions. The mere fact that it is red is not enough to say that a mask contains an allergenic substance”, tempers Brigitte Milpied, dermatologist at Bordeaux University Hospital and member of the French Dermatology Society (SFD). “Whenever something goes wrong, people tend to call it an allergy. However, the allergy remains exceptional. To be sure, you have to do a test” she adds.

Doctor Hervé Masson, allergist in Bordeaux, shares this opinion: “In the image, it looks more like a burn than an allergic reaction, but as long as the child has not been examined, we cannot tell”. […]

allergic reaction to wearing the same surgical mask for extended time

Claimed allergic reaction – prolonged mask wearing

The importance of wearing a proper, clean mask and discarding of disposable masks when they are moist or soiled can’t be understated. If a genuine allergic reaction, the image above raises questions about just how well informed this teenager and her parents were about hygienic mask wearing, maintenance and disposal.

It’s important to wash cotton masks before wearing them and to not exceed recommended duration of wear. Individuals prone to allergies may have to test materials and take extra precautions. Information as to how to avoid allergic reactions from wearing masks should be clearly conveyed by health authorities in all languages used in the release of other COVID-19 information.

The good news is that this particular effort to scare the unsuspecting into believing masks cause staph infections or CO2 toxicity has been thoroughly debunked. Either through sourcing the images or combining this with facts about CO2 toxicity and mask wearing. Please check the excellent sources below

No doubt COVID-19 related scams and disinformation will continue in the foreseen future.


Fury with Woolworths may reach epidemic levels

When it comes to furious customers and Woolworths there was a fairly routine story about four and a half years ago.

What makes it different from the many other stories on furious customers and Woolworths is that this was a genuine story. Organised bulk buying of baby formula from both Coles and Woolworths had led to concerns of a nationwide baby formula shortage.

Opportunists were bulk buying certain brands of baby formula and shipping it to China where it could be sold at four times the price. Australians urged the two leading supermarkets to enforce purchase limits. Three parents with Asian sounding surnames had their online orders for baby formula cancelled by Woolworths. Korean-Australian mother Sarah Kong had her order for four tins cancelled, being told it was deemed “suspicious”. She had banded together with the other parents to lodge a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission. They also sought an apology from Woolworths.

It was clear Woolworths had slipped up with customer service standards. According to the opening paragraph of the story in the Sydney Morning Herald;

Three furious customers are demanding an apology from Woolworths for cancelling their online baby formula orders and suspending their accounts, accusing the supermarket giant of racial profiling.

Whilst this certainly wasn’t the first story of “furious customers” and supermarkets in an interesting coincidence such stories involving Woolworths (and Coles) steadily began to increase. Four months later news.com.au published Shoppers furious over milk shortage. Two telling aspects were the use of Facebook comments and the fact customers had published images to make their point.

COLES and Woolworths are facing a PR nightmare with shoppers furious that they have been unable to buy alternatives to supermarket milk brands.

The Facebook pages of both supermarkets have been flooded with photos of shelves empty of other brands of milk while bottles of Coles and Woolies-branded milk are fully stocked.

In December that year the Daily Mail Australia broke the riveting story of customers who were “cheesed off” to find they had bought pizzas with most of their toppings missing. It seems that with customers using Facebook to post images and complain about products there are stories for the taking. Customers were about to become frequently furious. In this case the Daily Mail headed the story, Woolworths customers furious after buying pizzas with most of their toppings missing.

On May 24th 2017 Australians learnt of “disc rage” which was due to Woolworths famed Marvel Discs collection of 42 free discs for kids being almost impossible to find in store but available on eBay for up to $800. On Facebook one father wrote;

My two kids are giving me grief over your stupid discs. If you want me to shop at Coles you’re doing a great job.

Ouch!

A week later came a social media campaign on Woolworths Facebook page started by a savvy shopper who wanted to know why Woolworths was locking up its pregnancy test kits. Woolies argued they were preventing theft, but received no sympathy. There were almost 750 comments. Yet these comments didn’t just comment. They complained. Even as complaints they didn’t just complain. These complaints raged. It was reported;

Complaints to the company’s Facebook page raged that it was unfair that women worried they could be pregnant were somehow forced to ask permission from store staff.

A few days later the same publication, B&T Magazine published, More strife for Woolies as customers vent sweet potato fury. It was reported that the fury was due to;

A pack of orangey spuds in a [plastic] tray and plastic wrapping!

7,200 comments vented fury at Woolies threat to the planet and rejected their defence of protecting produce through “the supply chain”. Nonetheless the article finished by noting that Woolworths did have one supporter who wrote;

People have nothing better to do with their time then to complain! We should be worried about the more pressing issues in the world!

Could this women have been immune to fury? In any case her sensible demeanor was not catching. B&T reported that she was “suitably roasted” for her comment.

In August 2017 we read Woolworths customers furious after they were charged twice for old purchases. Readers were informed by Yahoo;

Furious customers took to the Woolworth (sic) Facebook page to demand their money back after they noticed they were missing hundreds of dollars in duplicate payments from transactions made in March.

On October 24th that year we read of Mum’s fury after Woolworths product burns son, following a Halloween face-painting episode. Although mum had tested the $4 product on her son’s wrists with no problem it seems when it came to the face a furious burning followed, requiring treatment.

Continue reading

Chris Kenny attacks Paul Barry, Media Watch and the ABC

Last month Chris Kenny used his programme The Kenny Report on Sky News to launch a knee jerk attack against Media Watch and particularly its host Paul Barry.

It would seem that the facts about hydroxychloroquine not supporting the constant praise Donald Trump gave it as a treatment or preventative for COVID-19 did not sit well with Mr. Kenny. He was having none of the notion that these facts and the manner in which the media did or did not report them could be accurately presented on Media Watch.

His frequently personal, highly opinionated attack on Paul Barry fails to present necessary evidence whilst liberally applying the very deception he accuses Barry of. Kenny’s numerous contentions have become somewhat more relevant in light of the WHO suspending its trial of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 due to safety concerns. [Update: The WHO has resumed the trial of hydroxychloroquine after the study leading to the suspension was retracted by the Lancet. Full update after post]. However first some background on Trump and a review of the Media Watch segment in question.

The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a veritable cornucopia of weird and wonderful personalities making a range of deceptive, dangerous, conspiratorial or just plain wrong claims.

With respect to hydroxychloroquine as a treatment or prophylactic for COVID-19 the evidence and advice has, from the beginning, been clear. Trials were needed to establish if and how the drug should be taken. Within weeks treatment trials revealed serious problems and fatalities whilst warnings about its use as a prophylactic were unambiguous.

In the latter case warnings were more widespread after Donald Trump began to promote it. On March 19th in a White House press briefing Trump demonstrated a grave error of comprehension. Hydroxychloroquine has been used in the treatment and prevention of malaria for decades. Where suitable it is also prescribed in the management of rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

In a textbook example of why scientific advisors must be consulted by politicians who comment on health matters, Trump’s error of reasoning was to assume this prior, specific use of hydroxychloroquine meant it was apparently safe for other uses. In a March 19 press briefing he said in part;

Nothing will stand in our way as we pursue any avenue to find what best works against this horrible virus.

Now, a drug called chloroquine — and some people would add to it “hydroxy-.”  Hydroxychloroquine.  So chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine. Now, this is a common malaria drug. It is also a drug used for strong arthritis. If somebody has pretty serious arthritis, also uses this in a somewhat different form. But it is known as a malaria drug, and it’s been around for a long time and it’s very powerful.

But the nice part is, it’s been around for a long time, so we know that if it — if things don’t go as planned, it’s not going to kill anybody.

Five days later after taking a form of chloroquine an Arizona man died from cardiac arrest and his wife was hospitalised. They had ingested chloroquine phosphate which is not a medicinal form of chloroquine.

Despite Trump’s enthusiasm for hydroxychloroquine Dr. Anthony Fauci had urged caution. The day after Trump’s briefing, during his own COVID-19 briefing, Fauci answered reporters who were querying the use of the drug as a treatment. He stated;

The answer is no, and the evidence that you’re talking about … is anecdotal evidence.

Nonetheless, Trump followed by tweeting the drug was a “game changer” and almost a month later on April 14th Trump was still confusing its prior use with presumed general safety [Media Watch – 16 sec mark];

What do you have to lose? They’ve been taking it for forty years for malaria.

That was quite a statement. Particularly given what we know now. Trump announced on May 18th he’d been taking hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic for a week and a half. On May 20th he announced he would stop his “regimen” in a day or two. However almost a month earlier on April 24th the FDA had warned of the serious side effects of hydroxychloroquine [2]. They cautioned it should not be used outside a hospital or clinical trial.

The need for more research into the potential of hydroxychloroquine was reinforced by authorities from the very early days of Trump’s glowing praise for the drug. On the same day as his “what do you have to lose?” comment, it was reported that a high dose trial in Brazil looking at treatment of COVID-19 was abandoned due to a trend toward lethality.

On April 14th Science Alert reported in part;

After 11 patients died across both dosage groups, the team halted the high-dose arm of the trial on day six, citing more heart rhythm problems in the high-dose group, and “a trend toward higher lethality”.

Which brings us to the Media Watch segment, Hydroxychloroquine disappoints, of Monday April 27th. You can watch the segment (6.42) and access the transcript here. Or you can listen to the audio below or grab the mp3 file here (© ABC).

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Paul Barry does exactly what one would expect from Media Watch. He reported on findings from VA hospitals in the USA of higher mortality in those given hydroxychloroquine and the drug’s lack of efficacy. He stressed that the study was not randomised and hadn’t been peer reviewed, but was being taken seriously. He also reported on the disappointing trial results from Brazil and presented the well known tweets from Trump and Giuliani. The latter claiming a 100% success rate of hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19 was taken down by Twitter. Viewers were also presented with the chorus of hydroxychloroquine support from Fox News and quotes from Trump.

Shining a light on Australian media Barry quite fairly reported on Sky News Australia. After Dr. Fauci and others had warned hydroxychloroquine hadn’t been adequately tested and may be dangerous Sky reporters cited “Trump Derangement Syndrome” as the cause for US media reporting on the problems with Trump’s claims and the facts about the drug.

Rather than present evidence to support Trump’s claims or efficacy of hydroxychloroquine, Sky News contended that it was hatred of Trump that led to reporting of its dangers. Chris Kenny argued that the “real world clinical assessment of this drug at the moment”, was that doctors and dentists were “putting it aside” for themselves or their family.

Kenny also demonstrated the same grave error of comprehension as did Trump. On April 2nd he was promoting the claims of Dr. Vladimir Zelenko who had published a YouTube video making unverified claims about the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine given with zinc and antibiotics to treat COVID-19. The same method is known to cause cardiac problems.

Chris Kenny informed his viewers;

Now we know this drug is safe. People have been taking it for these other conditions for decades. So this does hold out great hope.

Yet Zelenko’s claims had already been exposed as unproven. Paul Barry noted it was reported on Snopes;

Zelenko’s claims, however, rest solely on taking him at his word: He has published no data, described no study design, and reported no analysis.

Zelenko’s video was rightly removed from YouTube. Kenny “wondered” if this censorship was due to Zelenko signing off his video with over the top praise for Trump. He professed his love, blessings and hope that God protects [President Trump]. It is now known Zelenko falsely claimed the trial he was enthusiastically promoting as successful had FDA approval. This has brought him to the attention of a US Federal prosecutor.

Paul Barry went on to note Alan Jones thought hydroxychloroquine should be “rushed into the front-line”. Again, as with Trump and Kenny we see the same lack of basic critical thought. Yes, Jones argued;

...given the drug has been around for more than 50 years, it’s approved, the data on it is well established it’s perplexing that we don’t instruct the use of the drug now with the monitoring of existing coronavirus cases to see the results.

Barry continued the segment by including a response to Jones from Professor Peter Collignon of ANU in which he warns of the drugs toxicity and stresses the need for more trials. He finished with playing the footage of Donald Trump’s comments about injecting disinfectant.

Chris Kenny seems to have taken great offence at the content of this Media Watch segment, despite what is the demonstrably factual content. On The Kenny Report of March 28th he launched an attack at Paul Barry, Media Watch its researchers and funding, and the ABC itself. He spent seven minutes of his time on air to do so claiming the ABC and Paul Barry had a “bizarre new enemy to attack”. Namely hydroxychloroquine.

You can watch The Kenny Report here and access a summary beneath it. Or you can listen to the audio below or grab the mp3 file here (© Sky News).

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In last months post on government cuts to ABC funding I touched on some points that are relevant to this post. Namely the terminology used by Sky News and Chris Kenny to convince viewers that the ABC has a leftist ideology. This is a bold claim and when attacking Media Watch the onus is on Chris Kenny to present not just peer reviewed evidence, but a scientific consensus based on the same to defend climate change denial and now the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19.

What is immediately apparent is Kenny’s frequent attacks on ABC funding. In the seven minutes he refers to taxpayer funding of the ABC and Media Watch five times. It’s difficult to imagine even his most devoted fans simply swallowing that. Each time he repeats a version of viewers being presented with “ideological deceit, deceptive tosh, rot, etc”. Kenny begins by telling his audience that Media Watch, “gets a lot wrong – deliberately wrong”. He continues;

One of the most over-resourced shows on television it uses taxpayers money for an ideological platform. It’s supposed to be a media watchdog standing up for truth, accuracy and the like, but what it does is distort the truth and promote inaccuracies in order to promote its own ideological agenda. This breaches the law of course, it breaches the ABC Charter.

This final claim about the ABC Charter is a calculated low blow designed to create significant problems for the ABC which is presently enduring a three year freeze of funding that began in June 2019. This will cost the ABC $83.7 million over the three years. 800 staff have lost their jobs. Yet most significantly as I wrote last month, the ABC has already stressed that the present cuts threaten delivery of the ABC Charter. Yet Kenny contends he is unveiling an “ideological agenda” of Media Watch. Speaking of which, he continues;

Barry and Media Watch preach global warming alarmism, promote leftist climate policies, defend the ABC and attack anyone right of centre. Especially if they work for News Corp – owners of this station. I’ve detailed their deceptions many times before, and I won’t stop.

He goes on to present a “recent example documented in detail by Andrew Bolt”. This is apparently how Media Watch acquitted the ABC over its “obsessive, biased, unfair, relentless and clearly wrong headed persecution of Cardinal George Pell over many years”. He presents an edited clip of Paul Barry speaking on Media Watch. Barry states;

And did the ABC get their judgements on Pell one hundred percent right? Probably not. Was it a witch hunt and a dark day for journalism? I for one do not think so.

Kenny returns with;

How about that for fairness and courage? What a whimp.

The deception employed here by Chris Kenny to create the bogus impression that Paul Barry is biased in favour of the ABC and against George Pell is highly significant. The out-take is from the lengthy Media Watch segment, Pell – The final verdict. When viewed in its entirety we see Barry is critical of ABC identities and programmes when warranted. We also learn that the story of an investigation into Pell was broken by Andrew Bolt’s own paper, the Herald Sun, in February 2016.

Paul Barry also argued against two respected ABC identities that claimed Pell was not “innocent”. Rather it was found there was insufficient evidence to convict. Barry responded to this as follows;

Technically that may be right.

But the principle of our legal system is you’re innocent until proven guilty. And after a unanimous seven-nil verdict from the High Court, you surely can’t argue that Pell is not innocent of the charges.

There are other examples of Barry criticising the ABC. Such as Louise Milligan and Four Corners for not canvassing Pell’s defence, but rather focusing on those who condemned Pell. Or of Barry citing the ABC’s fairness. ABC’s 7:30 did consider if Pell’s conviction was wrong, interviewing Frank Brennan. When Pell’s first appeal was dismissed The Drum had lawyer Richard Beasley appear and he raised concerns that reasonable doubt wasn’t found.

Over the Pell trial and appeals the ABC gave airtime to a large number of Pell supporters. Added to this must go the number of times his supporters turned down an invitation to appear on the ABC. There are many examples of the ABC’s fairness and bipartisanship with respect to Pell. What stands out is Paul Barry’s dedication to applying the same standards to the ABC as to anywhere else. More so in the spirit of Media Watch he has a right to examine if the Pell case was in the public interest and deserving of in depth coverage. Indeed it was, particularly in view of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This is what Pell told that Royal Commission;

My own position is that you never disbelieve a complaint. But then it has to be assessed as to see just whether it is valid and true and plausible.

– Revelation, ABC, 2 April, 2020

Thus Chris Kenny’s attack against Paul Barry with respect to Cardinal George Pell and purported ABC bias is without foundation. More so, Kenny has deceived his viewers by using a Media Watch clip out of context. The significance of this rests not least on the accusations of deception Kenny goes on to make against Paul Barry.

Kenny moves on to hydroxychloroquine, claiming the ABC and Paul Barry “don’t like the bloke who speaks positively about it”. Despite the evidence of hydroxychloroquine dangers outlined above, Kenny contends the ABC and Barry are, “actually lining up against drugs that are being trialled around the world. Why? Because the US President hopes they’ll work. I kid you not the left have become that nutty over Donald Trump”.

Kenny contended bias by omission because Paul Barry didn’t include two Australian trials, one of which is currently looking at the prophylactic application of hydroxychloroquine. Kenny made much of the fact he would be speaking to that trial’s lead investigator Professor Marc Pellegrini of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne. Unfortunately for Chris Kenny it’s not at all clear why ongoing trials support his contention that hydroxychloroquine should be considered safe or that Barry is misleading viewers.

At the time it was known the subjects – all healthcare workers – would be well, fit and rigorously assessed prior to entering the prophylactic trial. To fast forward, recently after the WHO stopped the hydroxychloroquine research of the global Solidarity trial on COVID-19 patients SBS reported that Prof. Pellegrini stated;

The WHO Solidarity trial is worlds apart from what we are doing. Understand that it’s very, very different.

On May 20th Clinical Trials Arena reported;

Pellegrini said: “COVID SHIELD is gold standard in its design as a multi-centre, randomised, double-blind study.

“The trial is focused on our frontline and allied healthcare workers who are at an increased risk of infection due to repeated exposure caring for sick patients. Our aim is to help these people stay safe, well, and able to continue in their vital roles.”

The trial will recruit 2,250 participants who will receive hydroxychloroquine or a placebo tablet over four months.

The other QLD study was part of a national trial looking at both hydroxychloroquine, and lopinavir-ritonavir (a combination treatment used to treat HIV) in the treatment of COVID-19. There were no available results at the time and Paul Barry was not hiding the truth. The focus of his Media Watch segment was media. Not a discussion of various hydroxychloroquine trials.

Well before Kenny went to air the FDA warned of severe heart problems in patients given hydroxychloroquine. Still Kenny attacked Media Watch researchers and bemoaned their funding claiming Barry selectively omits items if they don’t fit “his thesis”.

Kenny worked hard to whip up anger over taxpayer funding of the ABC. He returned to his comment that the real world clinical assessment of hydroxychloroquine was that health professionals were “putting it aside”. This was because he knew that Paul Barry’s “large research team” had received this correspondence from the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. In it the PSA president notes that there has been an unprecedented demand for hydroxychloroquine following some promising data on the treatment of COVID-19 and Trump’s support of the drug.

It goes on to mention reports from pharmacists that doctors are prescribing for doctors and their families, as are dentists. Non-medical prescribers are prescribing bulk amounts. There is no mention of conclusive data supporting treatment of COVID-19. Key parts of the correspondence include;

If this medication does indeed have the efficacy that we would desire against COVID-19 then it needs to be prescribed and used judiciously. […]

Our strong advice to pharmacists at this point in time, until further advice is available, is to refuse the dispensing of hydroxychloroquine if there is not a genuine need, and that need is for those indications for what it is approved for – inflammatory conditions or the suppression and treatment of malaria. […]

The only way this [treatment of patients who genuinely need the drug] is possible is for prescribers to not write prescriptions for this medicine as a ‘just in case’ measure and for pharmacists to refuse the supply outside of these indications at this point in time.

I’m quite baffled as to why Kenny thinks this letter supports the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine or why he thinks Paul Barry should have included it in his segment. Barry did not accuse Kenny of lying about GPs and dentists grabbing a supply of the drug. Rather, the issue is that Kenny believes such rash behaviour by some health professionals is a “real world clinical assessment of this drug at the moment”. The fact is such off-label prescribing is most certainly not a clinical assessment and to tell viewers this, may have serious, dangerous consequences. TGA amendments to hydroxychloroquine prescription give a clear picture now and did so at the time Kenny went to air.

Kenny was also concerned that Media Watch didn’t mention his interviews with the PSA, Peter Doherty and a number with Professor Peter Collignon of the ANU. This is unusual given what Collignon had said on Alan Jones’ breakfast show on April 9th as reported on the very Media Watch segment Kenny accuses of being selectively and deceptively biased. Collignon stated;

The reality is it’s hard to believe why this drug would work. Now, like all other drugs, I think we’ve got to have an open mind and study them. But there’s as many reports showing it doesn’t work as there are, and it’s not a drug that hasn’t got any toxicity. People have already died from heart conditions by taking this drug in inappropriate dose.

Professor Collignon later told Media Watch by email that larger and more definitive studies were needed and that;

I am even more sceptical as more data is coming in.

Yet Kenny omitted this instead telling his audience;

Paul Barry has deliberately hidden and distorted the truth in order to pretend that we have been misleading you. It’s that brazen, that unhinged and it’s done with your taxpayers money.

Kenny also decided to leave out any mention of Vladimir Zelenko despite him being previously mentioned to support Kenny’s claim of left wing bias against Trump, hence bias against hydroxychloroquine. Zelenko has recently labelled negative data on the drug as “garbage”. Nor did he mention Dr. Anthony Fauci or his position on the drug. He does mention Paul Barry’s reporting of Trump suggesting injection of disinfectant. Kenny then observes;

That’s the level at which Barry operates. Like a kid on Twitter he wants to pretend that the President recommends mainlining Dettol. It’s that inane.

Kenny goes on to disapprove of Barry’s salary which he’s paid, “to produce fifteen minutes of deceptive tosh a week”. He’s not happy that, “up to a dozen researchers” are paid either. Research, Kenny contends, that is, “left out if the facts get in the way of [Barry’s] thesis”. He finishes off with more of the same, this time including a taunt;

The ABC spends, what, two or three million dollars a year on this programme of ideological deceit. And then they scream for more funds – more of your taxes. Good luck with that Ita.

Kenny’s performance is really worth watching. The evidence shows that the one omitting relevant material to deceive his audience is Chris Kenny himself despite his proclamations about Paul Barry. He may have a predetermined, erroneous notion of what Media Watch should be and how it should run. Yet given the many deliberate and malicious references to ABC funding and the motivation of Paul Barry it’s a safe bet that Kenny’s intentions are nefarious. He’s lashing out at Paul Barry and Media Watch because the facts aren’t to his liking or his ideology.

The denial of evidence can always have serious consequences and regarding climate change already has. However at the present time with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic orchestrated deception like that presented by Kenny is not only outrageous, but immoral. The fact is that today so much of right wing rhetoric is anti-science and indeed post truth. That Kenny would cling to his anecdotal belief that the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine can be gleaned from it being snapped up by some health professionals is a failure of critical thinking. That he tried to defend this by tacking together various claims that Paul Barry had omitted material he felt supported his belief gives disturbing insight into the logical fallacies he entertains.

There is really no doubt. Hydroxychloroquine has not been shown to be of genuine benefit in fighting COVID-19 as data stands. Hydroxychloroquine should not be used for COVID-19 outside of clinical trials. Donald Trump was wrong to promote it. Sky News journalists are politically motivated in defending Trump.

Chris Kenny is wrong. He failed to present the evidence. Paul Barry and Media Watch are right. The evidence in this case is what the ABC presented.


UPDATE 6/6/2020:

 

Government cuts to ABC harm quality journalism

Sky News Australia, owned by News Corp, has a well earned reputation for denying the evidence of climate change and the need for reducing carbon emissions, which host Chris Kenny recently referred to as “leftist climate policies”.

The occasion was indulgence in what has earned the outlet another, equally concerning reputation. Regular attacks directed at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation based on the contention that they promote biased leftist ideology. That the ABC leads unwarranted leftist media campaigns, the most significant recently being an apparent “attack” on Cardinal George Pell, although it was News Corp which first reported charges brought against Pell. Since Pell’s High court acquittal of historical child sexual abuse charges the tone and pace from Sky News seem to have increased.

More so a specific amount is levelled at ABC Media Watch and its host, Paul Barry. Yet they fail to mention it was Paul Barry on Media Watch who tackled the claims that Pell was not innocent because he had been found not guilty due to reasonable doubt. Barry insisted that Pell was innocent until proven guilty. As he was now not guilty, has was innocent.

The brazenness combined with the shoddiness of these attacks has been percolating for years. Accusations in the main are made with no real evidence, simply opinion. This is doubly true when it comes to attributing motivation to the ABC or its journalists. The present environment that allows the confidence for Sky to present what is often junk journalism often with the aim of smearing the ABC exists in very large part thanks to successive Coalition governments.

Australian Government criticism of the ABC has a long history and its tone reflects what party is in power at the time. Yet moves to manipulate the ABC through budget cuts and misleading verbal attacks about “ideological bias” have proven to be from the game book of the Coalition. Despite a pre-election promise to maintain budgets of both the SBS and the ABC, the Howard government targetted both. His governments 1996 budget included a 2% ($55 million) annual cut to ABC funding beginning in 1997-98. And an independent review of the ABC was commissioned to be led by Bob Manfield.

Howard continued to verbally attack the ABC over his four terms. His former Chief-of-Staff Graeme Morris described the ABC as “our enemies talking to our friends”. Dennis Muller (Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne) noted in The Conversation in February last year that Howard himself labelled the ABC nightly news as “Labors home video”.

And that;

Howard’s communications minister, Richard Alston, kept up an unremitting barrage of complaints that the ABC was biased. This culminated in 2003 with 68 complaints about the coverage of the second Gulf War. An independent review panel upheld 17 of these but found no systematic bias.

I could not agree more with Muller that;

This playbook – repeated funding cuts, relentless allegations of bias, and recurring inquiries into the ABC’s efficiency and scope – has been followed to the letter by the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison administrations.

Interesting then that The Howard Years, in which he worked at shaping his legacy, was a successful ABC-TV event.

But I really wonder if Howard could have foreseen what he’d put in motion. Yes Howard was conservative. Morally, socially and politically. His fawning to the Australian Christian Lobby left behind inestimable damage in that it swung the gates wide for organised bigoted fundamentalism. His record of demonstrable apathy in response to climate change and his capitulation to the Greenhouse Mafia was inescapable. Less than eight months ago in a keynote speech to mining industry representatives he criticised “climate change zealots” and perhaps foolishly said he was “agnostic” when it came to climate change.

But John Winston Howard was not anti-science as were those around him. Of course, when we look at the evidence of climate change there is really no room for agnosticism. Yet Howard was defending his legacy and the contribution Australia’s mining industry had made to economic stability during the GFC of 2008. He didn’t deny the existence of climate change or label it a leftist conspiracy without foundation.

Certainly he was not an enemy of reason. Climate change aside he understood the importance of evidence and the risk of turning ones back on it. Perhaps he wondered at the wisdom of the Liberal Party Council. On June 16th 2018 they voted to privatise the ABC, despite this going against the very pursuit of journalistic independence that led to the founding of the ABC. The Institute of Public Affairs was delighted with the prospect of privatising the ABC. Two members of the IPA had published a book on “how to do it” just a month before.

This wasn’t a sudden decision in conservative politics. By then the Abbott-Turnbull administrations had already cut $338 million from ABC funding since 2014. The 2018 Budget handed down by then Treasurer Scott Morrison included a three year freeze on ABC funding beginning in June 2019. He said at the time, “everyone has to live within their means”. The tied funding of $43.7 million will cost the broadcaster $83.7 million in budget cuts over three years, on top of the cumulative $254 million in cuts since 2014. There was no better news in the 2019 budget.

It was reported in The Conversation in April last year;

This has resulted in an accumulated reduction in available funding of A$393 million over a five-year period, starting from May 2014. According to current budget forecasts, this also means the ABC stands to lose A$783 million in funding by 2022, unless steps are taken to remedy the situation.

Earlier this month Opposition leader Anthony Albanese asked the PM to reconsider the ABC budget freeze in respect of their essential role over the bushfire season and now the coronavirus pandemic. SBS reported;

“Will the Prime Minister restore funding so the ABC can keep doing its job so effectively?” [asked Albanese]

Mr Morrison responded: “The ABC is doing an excellent job and they’ll continue doing that job with the resources that have been provided to them.”

“Like all agencies, like all Australians, they will all do the best job they can with the resources they have available to them.”

The funding cuts are brutal and are a clear sign of the federal government’s aim to restrict the journalistic vision of the ABC. The ABC was clear in stressing that the most recent cuts threaten delivery of the ABC Charter requirements. More so 800 staff have lost their jobs. As I noted above, I wonder if Howard would be comfortable with this. Leading up to the last Federal election Labor promised to reverse the budget freeze and ensure the $83.7 million the ABC stood to lose. They also promised $60 million to the ABC and SBS.

Writing about the Young Liberals call in late June 2018 to sell the ABC, Vincent O’Donnell noted;

But most members of the conservative movement are hostile to the ABC because it is said to be biased. Accusations of bias are useful tools to undermine confidence and support for the ABC…

[…]

…there are folk whose political beliefs are so far to the right that just about all of Australia, and most of the world, is to the left. Any media that reflects this reality is necessarily left wing and biased.

Intermingling of the Coalition government and right wing conservative journalists criticising the ABC goes back some time. In August 2014 a parliamentary library research paper noted (part 4: Disbanding the network);

Following its victory in the 2013 election, the Abbott Government became increasingly critical of the Australian Network for what it argued [were] overly negative representations of Australia. In addition, Prime Minister Abbott was critical of the ABC’s overall reporting stances; the Prime Minister claiming the ABC took everyone’s side but Australia’s.

The same paper reported in Box 5: Spy scandal and the role of the media that the ABC had reported on Edward Snowden’s leaked information that Australian intelligence officials tried to tap the phones of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife. The ABC also reported on asylum seeker claims that they had been abused by members of the Australian Navy. In respect of the Indonesian phone tapping incident Chris Kenny, “accused the broadcaster of embarrassing Australia and Indonesia, undermining co-operative relations and diminishing national security”.

Andrew Bolt contended that the ABC, “was ‘not just biased. It is a massive organ of state media, strangling private voices and imposing a Leftist orthodoxy that thinks it fine to publish security secrets’.” The ABC apologised with respect to the asylum seeker claims, saying it was sorry if the report had led people to assume they believed the claims. Their intention was to present the material “as claims worthy of further investigation”.

The government continued to criticise the ABC, accusing it of “maligning Navy personnel”. Defence Minister at the time, David Johnston claimed the ABC had “maliciously maligned” the Navy and contended that their reporting justified an investigation. In March 2014 the ABC reported evidence supporting abuse of asylum seekers in Indonesian detention centres. The then Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, argued the claims had no credibility and that the ABC should “move on”.

The same research paper includes in Box 1 – One man’s satire another man’s distress, which covers a 2013 Chaser segment wherein a photoshopped image of News Corp journalist Chris Kenny having sex with a dog was shown. Initially the ABC refused to apologise arguing that viewers were, “adequately warned by an onscreen classification symbol and accompanying voice over of the likelihood of seeing potentially offensive content”.

The point I wish to make here is relevant to the opening paragraphs. Kenny did have a defender. On Media Watch Paul Barry firmly disagreed with the ABC and The Chaser view of satire, arguing it was neither satirical nor clever. The saga rolled on for a time with further developments, some serious, some frivolous. Ultimately the ABC did apologise to Kenny.

These examples deal almost exclusively with TV journalism. Of course Media Watch ranges across radio, internet, social media, printed news and TV. Ongoing criticism and bullying of the ABC by the Coalition government is quite telling. As Muller wrote in Constant attacks on the ABC will come back to haunt the Coalition government;

The bipartisan political vision for the ABC was that it should not be vulnerable to sectional interests or commercial pressures, but should exist to serve the public interest in the widest sense

The ABC cannot do this without financial and factual support from governments. More so attacks on the ABC from unapologetic right wing ideological bastions such as Sky News are indicative of a wider social problem. A lack of critical thought and an inability to understand and respect the impact of evidence.

It may well be worth looking more closely at that soon.