Australian Skeptics has issued a warning and call to action to Australian media, medical professionals, and local councils regarding the current anti-vaccination ‘revival’ tour of rural and regional Australia:
Delivers COVID-19 Conspiracies and Bad Advice
The so-called “VAXXED” bus is currently touring Australia, spreading misinformation about vaccination at local ‘revival-style’ meetings, often in regional venues owned or managed by local councils or schools. This big black bus carries the logo of the “Australian Vaccination-risks Network” (AVN), an organisation whose leaders have:
● Claimed COVID-19 is nothing more than a bad cold.(1)
● Encouraged people to take photos in hospitals to show COVID-19 is not serious.(2)
● Discouraged face masks for COVID-19 and stated temperature testing is crazy and stupid.(3)
● Likened vaccination to rape.(4)
● Claimed microchips could be injected into the population via vaccines.(5)
● Promoted the falsehood that contrails from aircraft – which they call “Chemtrails” – are used to poison the population.(6)
● Spread the discredited falsehood that vaccines lead to autism.(7)
● Propagated the myth that SIDS and the fatal injuries suffered by some babies who were shaken to death are really the results of vaccines.(8)
With the recent resurgence of COVID-19 in parts of the country, now is not the time to have anyone spread disinformation about the pandemic or vaccine preventable diseases. It is clear from their own statements that the organisers of this tour do not take the threat of COVID-19 seriously.
In 2014, the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission issued a public warning against this organisation, stating in part:
Warning – The Commission has established that AVN does not provide reliable information in relation to certain vaccines and vaccination more generally. The Commission considers that AVN’s dissemination of misleading, misrepresented and incorrect information about vaccination engenders fear and alarm and is likely to detrimentally affect the clinical management or care of its readers.(9)
MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS: Should be aware that the VAXXED Bus may be visiting their area. This will mean that current and potential patients may be exposed to dangerous misinformation that can have deleterious if not fatal consequences. Anti-vaccine messages should be actively resisted, and we encourage local medical professionals to take a stand on this issue, either via local media, social media or whatever public avenues exist in their area.
MEDIA: We advise the media to take great care when covering the VAXXED Bus and the Australian Vaccination-risks Network. They use the tactic of “tell both sides of the story”, also known as “False Balance”, a misrepresentation that the ABC’s Media Watch has covered with regard to this organisation in 2012(10). The media are advised to focus on the more bizarre conspiracy theories propagated, but are under no obligation to give this group the oxygen they seek.
LOCAL COUNCILS: Should consider very carefully the possible consequences of hiring out venues to this organisation. With parts of regional Australia recording a worrying low level of vaccination in a time of a global pandemic, encouraging parents not to vaccinate their children is irresponsible.
“We have one of the safest outcomes when it comes to preventable diseases in the world, because of our strong immunisation program, and anti-vaxxers should just butt out. Vaccination has saved lives, it’s safe, it’s effective and anyone that tried to create any other discussion against it is really trying to harm the Australian public”
– Australian Medical Association President Dr Tony Bartone (Radio 2GB 20/04/2020)
“…there has been somewhat of an upsurge in paranoid and sort of unhinged behaviours.”
– AMA state president (SA) Dr Chris Moy (ABC NEWS 21/05/2020)
“It is concerning that the reports that I have received are that some people believe that coronavirus is a conspiracy or that it won’t impact on them.”
– Victoria’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos (7 News July 2020)
2. Dorey questioned the COVID-19 pandemic saying: “Are you being lied to?” Requesting that followers “take your phones and pop into the local hospital” and “Let us know how crowded it is — or is not. Is coronavirus really overwhelming our nation or is our nation overwhelming us with lies and killing our economy and us?”
Hansen, Jane (3 April 2020). “Anti-vaxxers deny COVID-19 pandemic, urge others to ignore isolation advice”. The Sunday Telegraph. Sydney NSW.
3. On Face Masks for COVID-19: “… a piece of cheese cloth… something with lots and lots of holes in it is the best to wear.”
On Temperature Testing for COVID-19: “…. temperature testing, that’s just crazy….” “It is so stupid. It just shows the extent of stupidity that our government, our medical community and our media are displaying.”
Meryl Dorey, Under the Wire – https://www.bitchute.com/video/K77QIp3HJQyP (49min 20sec mark)
8. Anti-vaxxers come up with their most abhorrent lie yet. – “So Shaken Baby Syndrome again, like SIDS, is a waste basket. It is a way of blaming the family for what may have been caused by the medical community.” https://www.mamamia.com.au/avn
9. The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission – Public statement – warning about the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network, Inc. (‘AVN’), formerly known as Australian Vaccination Network Inc. https://tinyurl.com/p6o4yy8
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At the time this post was published The Guardian had previously reported that Australian researchers had raised concerns about the origins of data used for the Lancet study. The same researchers stressed there was no evidence that hydroxychloroquine was safe of effective.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 2015 Bill Gates gave a TED Talk on the importance of preparedness for a global pandemic caused by “a highly infectious virus”.
An Ebola epidemic that began in December 2013, and continued until 2016, had by that time killed around 10,000 people in West Africa. Gates cites three reasons as to why there weren’t more deaths. 1.) The selfless work by front line health workers including locating infected persons and preventing further spread (see Contact Tracing below). 2.) Ebola is not an airborne virus and by the time those who are infected become contagious, most are so ill as to be bedridden. 3.) The virus did not reach many urban areas and this directly kept the number of cases lower than had Ebola spread throughout urban communities.
Yet he also refers to what he calls “a global failure”. Noting the slowness of response. The failure to study treatment approaches, diagnostics and the application of epidemiological and medical tools.
In what has been shown to be an uncomfortably prescient statement Gates notes;
So next time, we might not be so lucky. You can have a virus where people feel well enough while they’re infectious that they get on a plane or they go to a market.
Gates uses the Spanish Flu of 1918 to demonstrate how quickly an airborne virus can spread. He observes that the World Bank have estimated that a global flu epidemic will cause a drop in global wealth of “over three trillion dollars” and there would be “millions and millions of deaths”.
It’s important to note that the present reality with COVID-19 is not absolutely reflected in Gates’ TED Talk. Trends of global financial impact have not yet played out. Total fatalities will be disturbing and many may lose friends and loved ones, yet the prediction of “millions and millions” of deaths is not a current reality.
Nonetheless the reason that the capacity to reduce morbidity and mortality – to flatten the curve – is in our hands is indeed touched on by Gates. Just after the five minute mark he speaks of our ability to use certain tools to create an effective response system. Science and technology. The use of cell phones to inform the public. Satellite maps to inform on the movement of people. Advances in biology and research that will support rapid turnaround of drugs and vaccines to fit the pathogen responsible for the pandemic.
As I touched on above another factor discussed but not labelled as such by Gates, that is presently more robustly employed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is Contact Tracing. Gates talks about locating infected persons and preventing further spread. In May 2017 African Health Sciences published a review of contact tracing in containing the 2014 Ebola outbreak. However with an airborne coronavirus this has proven, as expected, to be enormously more complicated.
…recording [of] close proximity between people using Bluetooth, WiFi, or GPS data, [which] could help efficiently notify people that they have earlier been in contact with someone now diagnosed with coronavirus and should self-isolate
The department will begin using the cloud-based platform from Thursday to regularly interact with those that have come into close contact with someone who has contracted COVID-19.
The platform, which will automate interactions between the department and select individuals, will also be used to enforce self-isolation for Victorians who have confirmed cases of the virus.
Gates was more than reasonably accurate in predicting our response. Presented without exact figures from the epidemiology and pathology of the infectious agent Gates’ description of how we could and would respond deserves high marks.
Presently we are witnessing the application of the tools at our disposal to flatten the curve of morbidity and mortality. We know that only an effective vaccine can break the back of the pandemic as it now exists. Drugs that target specific symptoms and slow or prevent the impact on COVID-19 comorbidity are greatly needed. The use of cell phone apps to both inform and trace the public is well underway.
Most importantly we have accepted that staying at home, social distancing and increasingly reducing the number of people together in public, together with effective hand washing and smothering of coughs or sneezes are vitally effective measures. Some of these measures should be employed every flu season and it’s hoped we will continue to do just that.
One imagines we will be better prepared in future for the emergence of another pandemic. Gates was right in that we needed to prepare. We see that clearly now in the need for hospital beds, ventilators and other medical equipment. He also noted the necessity of strong health systems in poor countries and presently the need for increased funding in developing nations is a reality. [AlJazeera news video]
To finish off perhaps we should focus on what Gates observed at the end of his talk;
So I think this should absolutely be a priority. There’s no need to panic. We don’t have to hoard cans of spaghetti or go down into the basement. But we need to get going, because time is not on our side.
In fact, if there’s one positive thing that can come out of the Ebola epidemic, it’s that it can serve as an early warning, a wake-up call, to get ready. If we start now, we can be ready for the next epidemic.
Of course we were not utterly unprepared for a pandemic. Far from it. There are global and national agencies throughout the world that focus on both the risk of a viral pandemic and how we can best prepare. Developing nations are closely monitored by organisations such as the WHO and the UN. Still the lack of any treatment or vaccine to prevent COVID-19 has proven to be an enormous hurdle.
An interesting dynamic in the USA at present is whilst President Trump has criticised the CDC for its response to coronavirus, he had from 2018 cut their budget for global disease management and closed government units dedicated to preventing pandemics.
Trump’s administration has also cut similar funding for the National Security Council (NSC), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Health and Human Services (HHS). Other cuts to CDC funding used to manage chronic disease are scheduled for 2021 and as yet have not been approved by Congress. Perhaps justifiably Trump has come under scorn for his approach to the coronavirus outbreak.
Funding for the prevention of pandemics is an essential part of a solid public health budget. Without a doubt these budgets should be designed with input from scientists. By shirking reason and evidence in their pursuit of “alternative facts” and a post truth world, the Trump administration had maneuvered itself into an increasingly perilous position.
One hopes that as we move toward the future and find ourselves past the COVID-19 pandemic that we aim to listen to the evidence, learn from the past and prepare for pandemics we cannot yet predict.
When I was a kid, the disaster we worried about most was a nuclear war. That’s why we had a barrel like this down in our basement, filled with cans of food and water. When the nuclear attack came, we were supposed to go downstairs, hunker down, and eat out of that barrel.
Today the greatest risk of global catastrophe doesn’t look like this. Instead, it looks like this. If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes. Now, part of the reason for this is that we’ve invested a huge amount in nuclear deterrents. But we’ve actually invested very little in a system to stop an epidemic. We’re not ready for the next epidemic.
Let’s look at Ebola. I’m sure all of you read about it in the newspaper, lots of tough challenges. I followed it carefully through the case analysis tools we use to track polio eradication. And as you look at what went on, the problem wasn’t that there was a system that didn’t work well enough, the problem was that we didn’t have a system at all. In fact, there’s some pretty obvious key missing pieces.
We didn’t have a group of epidemiologists ready to go, who would have gone, seen what the disease was, seen how far it had spread. The case reports came in on paper. It was very delayed before they were put online and they were extremely inaccurate. We didn’t have a medical team ready to go. We didn’t have a way of preparing people. Now, Médecins Sans Frontières did a great job orchestrating volunteers. But even so, we were far slower than we should have been getting the thousands of workers into these countries. And a large epidemic would require us to have hundreds of thousands of workers. There was no one there to look at treatment approaches. No one to look at the diagnostics. No one to figure out what tools should be used. As an example, we could have taken the blood of survivors, processed it, and put that plasma back in people to protect them. But that was never tried.
So there was a lot that was missing. And these things are really a global failure. The WHO is funded to monitor epidemics, but not to do these things I talked about. Now, in the movies it’s quite different. There’s a group of handsome epidemiologists ready to go, they move in, they save the day, but that’s just pure Hollywood.
The failure to prepare could allow the next epidemic to be dramatically more devastating than Ebola. Let’s look at the progression of Ebola over this year. About 10,000 people died, and nearly all were in the three West African countries. There’s three reasons why it didn’t spread more. The first is that there was a lot of heroic work by the health workers. They found the people and they prevented more infections. The second is the nature of the virus. Ebola does not spread through the air. And by the time you’re contagious, most people are so sick that they’re bedridden. Third, it didn’t get into many urban areas. And that was just luck. If it had gotten into a lot more urban areas, the case numbers would have been much larger.
So next time, we might not be so lucky. You can have a virus where people feel well enough while they’re infectious that they get on a plane or they go to a market. The source of the virus could be a natural epidemic like Ebola, or it could be bioterrorism. So there are things that would literally make things a thousand times worse.
In fact, let’s look at a model of a virus spread through the air, like the Spanish Flu back in 1918. So here’s what would happen: It would spread throughout the world very, very quickly. And you can see over 30 million people died from that epidemic. So this is a serious problem. We should be concerned.
But in fact, we can build a really good response system. We have the benefits of all the science and technology that we talk about here. We’ve got cell phones to get information from the public and get information out to them. We have satellite maps where we can see where people are and where they’re moving. We have advances in biology that should dramatically change the turnaround time to look at a pathogen and be able to make drugs and vaccines that fit for that pathogen. So we can have tools, but those tools need to be put into an overall global health system. And we need preparedness.
The best lessons, I think, on how to get prepared are again, what we do for war. For soldiers, we have full-time, waiting to go. We have reserves that can scale us up to large numbers. NATO has a mobile unit that can deploy very rapidly. NATO does a lot of war games to check, are people well trained? Do they understand about fuel and logistics and the same radio frequencies? So they are absolutely ready to go. So those are the kinds of things we need to deal with an epidemic.
What are the key pieces? First, we need strong health systems in poor countries. That’s where mothers can give birth safely, kids can get all their vaccines. But, also where we’ll see the outbreak very early on. We need a medical reserve corps: lots of people who’ve got the training and background who are ready to go, with the expertise. And then we need to pair those medical people with the military. Taking advantage of the military’s ability to move fast, do logistics and secure areas. We need to do simulations, germ games, not war games, so that we see where the holes are. The last time a germ game was done in the United States was back in 2001, and it didn’t go so well. So far the score is germs: 1, people: 0. Finally, we need lots of advanced R&D in areas of vaccines and diagnostics. There are some big breakthroughs, like the Adeno-associated virus, that could work very, very quickly.
Now I don’t have an exact budget for what this would cost, but I’m quite sure it’s very modest compared to the potential harm. The World Bank estimates that if we have a worldwide flu epidemic, global wealth will go down by over three trillion dollars and we’d have millions and millions of deaths. These investments offer significant benefits beyond just being ready for the epidemic. The primary healthcare, the R&D, those things would reduce global health equity and make the world more just as well as more safe.
So I think this should absolutely be a priority. There’s no need to panic. We don’t have to hoard cans of spaghetti or go down into the basement. But we need to get going, because time is not on our side.
In fact, if there’s one positive thing that can come out of the Ebola epidemic, it’s that it can serve as an early warning, a wake-up call, to get ready. If we start now, we can be ready for the next epidemic.
It was reported that a 2014 USA National Immunization Surveillance Survey indicated that;
… over a third of parents of children ages 19 to 35 months followed delayed immunization schedules. Of the parents surveyed, 23% followed an alternate schedule that either limited the number of shots per visit or skipped at least one vaccine series altogether. Another 14% followed an unknown or unclassifiable schedule that did not follow a pattern and was not in line with national recommendations. Children who followed an alternate pattern were four times as likely not to be up to date on their vaccines and those who followed an unclassifiable pattern were over twice as likely not to be up to date.
Regrettably pediatricians are in a Catch 22 situation. They need to build parental trust. A 2015 study published in Pediatrics indicated that 93% of 534 pediatricians had been asked by parents of children under 2 to spread out vaccines. 82% believed complying with the parent’s request would build trust, whilst 80% thought if they declined, this may lead to parents leaving their practice.
In Connecticut, USA state lawmakers “narrowly advanced a bill” this week that seeks to ban religious vaccine exemptions for children. Despite reports of a 25% increase in religious exemptions from last year anti-vaccine opposition to the bill was fierce including protests in Connecticut’s Legislative Office Building. One Democrat representative, who seemed to have abandoned any pretense of basing his decision on evidence, referred to vaccination as “injecting a witches brew of chemicals”.
The vaccines included are the flu vaccine, whooping cough, measles, chicken pox and hepatitis B. It is astonishing, as we witness the evolving impact of COVID-19 in the absence of a vaccine, that groups such as the AVN seek to multiply these negative effects. They have teamed up with the anti-science, anti-medicine group, Health Freedom Victoria helping to disseminate their “generic letter” for anti-vaxxers to mail to “all Victorian politicians including your local member”. Of course one may pen ones own. Be sure to stress you “vehemently oppose this draconian overreach of the Andrews’ government”.
They also advise to follow up with phone calls. Following that, they basically suggest harassing Martin Foley who is Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Equality and Minister for Creative Industries. Martin Foley’s mental health portfolio sees him quite active in reducing discrimination for Victorians living with mental health challenges. Health Freedom Victoria want anti-vaxxers working in the health sector to email and call Mr. Foley to;
Tell him you are appalled that he would change the Discrimination Act to get away with forcing you to take an untested and unwanted medical procedure in order to keep your job
In the material they have disseminated to encourage targetting Martin Foley, Health Freedom Victoria refer to him as, “the Minister for amongst other things, Mental Health and Discrimination”.
South Australia introduced No Jab No Play legislation on September 30th 2019. Again there is a “generic letter” ready to go. In both cases the AVN seek to motivate loyal anti-vaccine followers to engage in pestering letter and/or email writing campaigns, asking those involved to follow up with a phone call, in this case “within half an hour but at least by the end of the day”. This is to confirm they have received your email and will be sending a Decision Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS). Of course one should inform the person you’ll call back in two weeks to chase up that RIS. And why?
In the words of the AVN themselves;
Phone calls increase their workload, so they’re more likely to do their job to avoid getting repeat calls.
Yep, you read that right. Wasting the time of your local members already busy and hard working staff is ensuring they “do their job”.