Following a complaint to the ABC in the wake of a 12 August interview with the founder of Reignite Democracy Australia, Monica Smit, Audience and Consumer Affairs concluded that it was a “serious editorial misjudgement”.
They found that ABC Far North Drive breached the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy, harm and offence. A correction has been published and, after the finding is reported to the ABC board, it will be published under upheld complaints.
A post here on 18 August, examined in depth a series of bogus claims made by Smit (pictured), and touched on the importance of editorial accuracy. On 13 August I’d submitted a complaint to the ABC summarising the most significant points made in that post.
As mentioned in the post under Editorial Standards?, after the interview, presenter Adam Stephens did clearly outline his reasons for having Smit on. He thought it is interesting people hold such views and that, as evidenced by RDA pamphlet drops, some residents around Cairns had been swayed by Smit.
He also added:
Whether you wanted to hear from Monica or not there are people that are listening to her message, and sometimes it’s… I think worthwhile in actually learning about the motivations of some of these groups in our community, and some of the people that feel strongly enough to actually join groups like this and distribute their information.
This sounds reasonable, but the problem is that Smit is a skilled manipulator. She is well versed in faux justifications for anti-vaccine, anti-mask and anti-lockdown claims. The RDA site leaves no doubt that they present harmful and divisive claims backed up by legal loopholes and the misrepresentation of studies. At the time, Smit had already incited a number of illegal protests. It was clear she had no regard for community safety. It is a factor that ABC management should have proactively made clear to programme producers across the country.
In an ideal world, disinformation would be refuted on the spot. In reality, because Smit (and others like her) cover such a range of topics, and use obscure details, this is impossible. The answer is to never provide air time. A decade ago, anti-vaccination activist Meryl Dorey was given ABC air time to discuss an immunisation incentive. She used both opportunities to spread disinformation. Complaints were upheld and Dorey hasn’t been on the ABC since. Let’s hope a similar fate awaits Smit.
ABC Far North: On 12 August, ABC Local Radio Far North Drive interviewed a member of anti-lockdown and COVID-19 conspiracy group Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA). The program failed to explain that the interviewee had no medical or pandemic expertise; and that the group is anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination and encourages illegal lockdown protests. This context was material to the audience’s understanding of the issues to hand. During the interview it was stated that mask wearing is dangerous; this is inaccurate. The interviewee made repeated erroneous claims about important public health matters which were not adequately contextualised or corrected by the presenter. The program failed to take the opportunity after the interview to directly correct and debunk the claims made.
ABC’s editorial standards are covered in the Code of Practice. Ultimately, Audience and Consumer Affairs found that the interview breached the ABC standards for accuracy 2.1 and 2.2, and for harm and offence 7.1 and 7.6. The full email response from Audience and Consumer Affairs is below (with permission of ABC).
Dear Mr Gallagher
Thank you for your email regarding the 12 August edition of ABC Far North’s Drive with Adam Stephen, which featured an interview with Monica Smit of Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA). I apologise for the delay in responding.
Your complaint has been considered by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of content making areas within the ABC. Our role is to review and, where appropriate, investigate complaints alleging that ABC content has breached the ABC’s editorial standards, which are explained in our Code of Practice. We have carefully considered your complaint, sought information from ABC Regional management and assessed the content against the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy and harm and offence.
Drive has explained that local Cairns businesses had received flyers from RDA, and that they broadcast an interview with a business owner who expressed his frustration with the “irresponsible” behaviour of this group which would “put everyone else in danger”. Following this, the editorial decision was made to interview Monica Smit from RDA.
Audience and Consumer Affairs have concluded that within the context presented, this interview was a serious editorial misjudgement. Our findings are set out below against the relevant editorial standards.
2.1 Make reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts are accurate and presented in context.
2.2 Do not present factual content in a way that will materially mislead the audience. In some cases, this may require appropriate labels or other explanatory information.
As you explain, at no point was it made clear that Monica Smit and RDA have no medical or pandemic expertise, nor are they advised by medical experts. It was not made clear that their flyer and website provides no reputable or evidence-based information. Further, it was not explained that RDA is an anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination activist group which attends, supports and encourages illegal lockdown protests and other activities. This context was material to the audience’s understanding of the issues to hand and in particular to the credibility of the claims made by Monica Smit.
As you point out, Monica Smit made numerous inaccurate and unsupported statements in this interview which were not corrected or adequately challenged by the presenter. The claims made by Monica Smit regarding mask wearing and lockdowns were both alarming and erroneous. The interviewee was allowed to make repeated inaccurate claims about important public health matters which were not adequately contextualised or corrected. Further, the program failed to take the opportunity after the interview to directly correct and debunk the claims made.
Audience and Consumer Affairs have concluded that Drive breached the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy 2.1 and 2.2.
Harm and offence
7.1 Content that is likely to cause harm or offence must be justified by the editorial context.
7.6 Where there is editorial justification for content which may lead to dangerous imitation or exacerbate serious threats to individual or public health, safety or welfare, take appropriate steps to mitigate those risks, particularly by taking care with how content is expressed or presented.
Audience and Consumer Affairs observe that reliance by listeners on the information provided by Monica Smit during this interview about public health orders was likely to cause harm. This includes the inaccurate information about mask wearing, lock downs and comments made by the interviewee on how to breach / avoid health orders.
The likely harm was not justified by the editorial context. Issues around groups like RDA are newsworthy to a degree, usually because of the threat or harm they present to the wider community and their illegal activities. An interview with a fringe activist with no medical expertise talking about public health matters requires very solid context and rigorous debunking; that did not happen on this occasion.
The material propagated by Monica Smit in this interview put RDA followers and the people around them at risk, and the editorial context did not justify the likely harm. The program did not take adequate care with how this content was expressed or presented, particularly in relation to accuracy.
Audience and Consumer Affairs have concluded that Drive breached the ABC’s editorial standards for harm and offence7.1 and 7.6.
ABC Regional apologise for this serious lapse in editorial standards. This matter has been discussed with the program team and a correction published here. In keeping with Audience and Consumer Affairs’ usual processes, this finding will be reported to the ABC Board and a summary published here.
Thank you again for bringing your concerns to the attention of the ABC. Once again I apologise for the delay in responding. Should you be dissatisfied with this response, you may be able to pursue your complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (www.acma.gov.au).
Yours sincerely (redacted) Investigations Manager Audience and Consumer Affairs
In a unique social media twist senior members of COVID conspiracy group, Reignite Democracy Australia ‘dobbed in’ the restaurant that hosted them for an illegal dinner.
It just so happens that Victoria’s current lockdown coincided with the long planned Australia-wide Millions March Against Mandatory COVID Vaccinations organised by Health Rights Alliance. The vaccine is not mandatory. So anti-vaxxers seize on the possibility of a COVID “vaccine passport” and the health workers who may be asked to have the vaccine. Thus a perfect storm for prancing protestors was afoot. On Saturday far from any actual risk and always mere steps from the safety of her car Monica Smit was role playing political dissident/freedom fighter (more on that below). Three hours later she was sipping wine with around 15 RDA friends dining illegally at Moda Kitchen and Bar in Seddon. We know this because one of the group posted a photo with a timestamp and details*.
Fi Reilly wrote;
Moda restaurant in Seddon. Getting on with business. Great hanging out with fellow freedom fighters.
How could this happen? How could Australia’s self-appointed government-in-waiting be so careless? More so, how could our brave freedom fighters end up so safe and cosy and warm whilst the people they encourage had so successfully antagonised police only to ultimately find the inside of an ambulance? More on that dastardly disparity below also. First let’s review some points.
A march during lockdown
In Victoria the venue for the Millions March was Flagstaff Gardens. The last such march in Melbourne saw the crowd gather in the Botanic Gardens on February 20th. Back then our frenetic COVID conspiracy theorist and wannabe political saviour Monica Smit seized the opportunity to promise that she and RDA “are coming” for the jobs of government. Since that time Smit has continued to push thoroughly debunked theories about COVID-19 and to urge civil disobedience in her followers. QR codes, face masks, social distancing, vaccination, temperature readings are all attacks on rights say RDA. Laws protect those who refuse to comply states their disinformation narrative.
Meanwhile back in reality, at 11:59 pm Thursday 27 May, Victoria went into ‘circuit breaker’ restrictions following a rise in community based COVID-19 cases. Restrictions include wearing a face mask, maintaining social distancing and travelling within 5 km of home unless meeting requirements to exceed that distance. In short a lockdown. The reasons scarcely need to be repeated but nonetheless the Department of Health state regarding stay at home directions:
The purpose of these directions is to address the serious public health risk posed to the State of Victoria by the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
It’s worth noting that the organisers of the Millions March posted a cancellation, of sorts, on Facebook just before 11am;
HRA wishes to advise that the official broadcast of the MMAMCV event has been cancelled due to vital team members pulling out. This was not the outcome lead organisers wished for, but it has been taken out of their hands. […]
For those still attending the gathering, some HRA members will be there alongside you, but have had to pull out in an official manner.To all that still attend, it is your event now – rock on!
Described by the Herald Sun as a “protest inciter” Smit herself was keeping well away from any protest. Exactly one hour after the ‘official’ cancellation was posted by HRA a mask-less Smit was warning of a police checkpoint at Victoria and Peel Streets Melbourne. Her real aim was for the sole purpose of being seen breaching regulations. To enjoy the attention that Monica loves so much. In a performance that’s almost as sad as it is funny, Smit offers;
And by the way, police monitoring this channel (it’s actually a Facebook Live video) I have a single friend who lives ’bout five hundred metres from Flagstaff Gardens. So I’m here as support, so you can go jump.
Yeah that’s right.
I shudder to imagine that huge police Monica-monitoring unit, a large wall screen displaying satellite data, row after row of computer monitors streaming code, and the small army of headpiece-wearing keyboard crunching surveillance experts who wince in fear when told to “go jump”. No doubt they even have a code name for her. The Bored Identity perhaps? Yes. Let’s go with that.
Having counted “three or four hundred cops”, and perhaps thinking of old spy or war movies when someone ‘reconnoitres the perimeter’, The Bored Identity tells viewers;
So, I’ve done a parameter of the park.
The Bored Identity then meets an admirer named Layla. A stranger we learn. They gush praise at each other sharing promises of fighting for their rights no less and the rights of Layla’s dog. So brave is The Bored Identity she admits on the monitored “channel” that she earlier drove past police, and then;
I yelled out the window, I said ‘Go catch some real criminals’, I go ‘Go do ya job for goodness sakes’.
Gosh!… I’ve got my single friend here – she needs my support. Actually ya know what I’m really doing?
[Whispers to the admirer who is suitably impressed. She ‘loves it’ in fact]
That’s my support for the day. All right Layla. Ga’Luck!
[Bored Identity walks off]
Uurgh! Gosh! Well, yeah. It’s gunna be interesting guys.
Clearly The Bored Identity is a highly trained operative. Masquerading as an attention seeking dimwit who provides video evidence on a self-described monitored “channel” that she is indeed in breach of stay at home restrictions is surely a clever ruse. The police based Monica-monitoring unit stood no chance.
On a more serious note police had earlier urged Victorians to respect efforts to combat the pandemic. On Saturday The Herald Sun later reported;
Victoria Police urged people to obey the current CHO directives.
“We are confident the overwhelming majority of Victorians will be doing the right thing and adhere to restrictions so we can all return to normality as soon as possible,” the force said in a statement.
“Those who choose to blatantly disregard the CHOs directions can expect to be held accountable and fined.”
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission added, “Any protest activity should comply with the public health directions in place at any given time.”
It is difficult to track all movements of The Bored Identity from this point until the restaurant. There was another ‘channel’ – what you might still call a Facebook Live video – which was a laneway-based recap of the day’s protest. This was a little strange as RDA didn’t appear anywhere near the protest. For reasons unknown that video has been deleted. But fortune has smiled upon us as a screenshot with a comment survives;
This commenter writes;
So once again you have “avoided” being arrested and later posted photo’s (sic) of yourself sitting in a restaurant with others who seem to always avoid arrest Hmmm. You commenced the day by telling people where the police were gathering but didn’t make any video from the actual park. Hmm. You later made a video from a laneway afterwards, boasting the protest was a big success. If I was cynical, I would say you and your crew are in cahoots with the police – of course you COULD just be teflon coated.
These points are inescapable. I mentioned in my last post on RDA that Monica Smit is likely deceiving her followers. But rather than being in league with police I’d argue she will always have a safe way out and is highly adverse to any genuine discomfort. The strange new blend of conspiracy theory with biblical fundamentalism that she caters to is growing rapidly and is no doubt quite lucrative. Whatever the case Monica Smit her partner Morgan Jonas and other RDA members chose to spend up at Moda Kitchen and Bar in Seddon.
A person who owns, controls or operates a food and drink facility in the State of Victoria may operate that facility during the restricted activity period only for the purposes of takeaway collection or delivery of pre-ordered goods.
As we’ll see below media reported the owner of the restaurant denied knowledge of the diners. But again we may thank Fi Reilly;
The relevant part of this screenshot is;
And loved having lunch with everyone afterwards in Seddon. We were just finishing lunch when the business got a call the police were on the way. People who dob on business is such a low act in my mind. Let’s all continue to support these types of businesses.
Being in cahoots aside, one does wonder why the business would get a call to say police were on the way. Tends to defeat the entire purpose of dealing with an offence. Perhaps it’s really an attempt to convey a composed exit. Nonetheless these images were on Twitter by Saturday evening and not long after the text of them accompanied news reports.
More than a dozen anti-vaxxers, including protest inciters MONICA SMIT and MORGAN JONAS, were photographed at Moda Kitchen and Bar in Seddon on Saturday afternoon despite statewide coronavirus restrictions which have shut restaurant doors and banned public gatherings.
The photograph, posted on encrypted communication app Telegram, was deleted on Sunday as the restaurant faced huge public backlash and threats of customer boycotts.
A Department of Justice and Community Safety spokeswoman said the incident will be investigated by the government’s coronavirus enforcement team.
“This claim has been referred to the Victorian Government’s High-Risk Industry Engagement and Enforcement Operation for investigation – and it will take action as necessary,” the spokeswoman said.
Moda Kitchen and Bar denied opening its doors to the anti-vax group, despite police confirming they were called to the Victoria St restaurant over reports of “a group not wearing masks” about 4.30pm on Saturday.
“We were closed. We went there to clean but we were closed. I don’t know what people are talking about,” the restaurant owner told the Herald Sun.
The Daily Mail UK published an almost identical piece. The restaurant’s Facebook page vanished soon after, likely going private as criticisms filled comments. The Instagram account followed today shortly after Victorians discovered its presence. Another inescapable point to this story is that the vast majority of Aussies really don’t have any respect for social saboteurs like Reignite Democracy Australia or for businesses that would happily breach regulations to accomodate them. Victorians are striving to get through a serious public health challenge. Many businesses doing the right thing are hurting. Thousands of workers and staff are losing income.
With all this talk about rights and freedom-fighting what about the rights of those doing the right thing? RDA and Co. of course have no answer.
The RDA rabbit hole
Their arrogance stems from bizarre claims like this on their Facebook page;
EXPOSING OUR MEDIA’S RECENT VENTILATOR LIE: One Day, One Victorian On a Ventilator, the Next Day, None!
Victoria’s ‘7-day snap-lockdown’ only exists because there was a need to coerce v8ccination.
General jab hesitancy and public disinterest created an urgent government need to counter-market; and thus, this lockdown serves primarily as a marketing drive for an otherwise undesirable Pharma product. There is no “outbreak,” no actual new cases, and certainly no “Indian double mutant strain.”
It was all meticulously preplanned – with every component strategically devised to ensure a successful psychological operation for public manipulation. The unusual media fixation on an “infected case” that was traced to the 3 Monkeys bar on Chapel Street, was the scheming strategists giving an ironic and knowing nod to the film 12 Monkeys (about a killer virus) – and they are laughing at us. […]
The other day, the media delighted in revisiting the idea of the true medieval horror of hooking a human up to a ventilator – intubated, and comatose, as they battle ‘a flu-like virus’ while being fleeced a small fortune for the privilege of being slowly tortured to death… well, it so happens that there are now ZERO people in Melbourne’s ICUs and not a single person on a ventilator, and not a single death since last year. […]
This lockdown is a criminal act perpetrated by a criminal government, pursuing a criminally coercive v8ccine agenda. It is a lie, founded on lies – and it shall all ultimately collapse by the sheer weight of endlessly being propped-up against the opposing gravity of truth.
Let us continue to contribute to that weight.
There’s more like this of course, including the baseless assertion that this “vaccine experiment” is punishable by death under the Nuremberg Code. Or the video of Monica Smit extolling loopholes she has found to get around QR codes. You see, families leave phones at home when going for a cafe brunch because they seek “quality time”. Monica acts as if you’re going to believe that. So they can’t be expected to use the QR code. Wink, wink. Enter dastardly plan to use alternatives to QR codes. Like, pen and paper.
Apart from promoting the DHHS reasons for not wearing a mask visitors are urged to download and print out copies of the following You Can Say No flyers to bother innocent members of the public with.
The Facebook page of our ‘future government’ is packed full of such pointless opposition to barely inconvenient aspects of life during a pandemic. Smit and Jonas seem driven by an out of proportion belief in their own importance and intelligence. All throughout is a concerning number of even more concerning prayers or proclamations relating to God, Jesus/Yeshua and the bible along with the belief that this pandemic was foretold in said bible. Pastor Paul Furlong of The Revival Church tells visitors;
God’s word says we cannot forsake the gathering of the saints, and do so even more it says as the days become more wicked and evil and the return of the Lord Jesus Christ is at hand, I believe we’re right there right now.
There is strong promotion of Peacemakers Australia. This group are like a real life manifestation of the Game of Thrones malignant religious sect the Sparrows. Complete with obsessed, testosterone fuelled thugs and verse quoting bible waving women, they too see their role foretold in Gospel and psalms. Popping up around all this are the regular crackpot COVID trouble makers from Craig Kelly to Matt Lawson.
Ultimately in the three short months since I last wrote about Monica Smit and Reignite Democracy Australia they have become at once more extreme and less in control of those they attract. They are nothing more than attention-seeking, exploitative charlatans and a problem for any democracy. Australia is a long way from anything like the storming of the U.S. Capitol on 6 January 2021 in Washington D.C. But if the belief in the right to do something like that here needs a home, it would find it amongst this awful amalgam of people.
Reignite Democracy Australia still has nothing Australia needs.
– Hat tip to the eagle eye who shared these screenshots.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
A recent article posted by Orac examined the fallacious story of FBI raids on the USA Centre for Disease Control.
What’s concerning here is that such stories aren’t just bogus claims or cherry picking from evidence or misrepresenting of reports and announcements from authoritative sources. Nope, these stories are utter nonsense with no basis at all in verifiable events.
They aim to advance malignant and anti-social agendas. In the case of the above lie that the FBI raided CDC offices, it’s clear purpose was to exploit the drooling anticipation of the anti-vaccination lobby. Mainly that with “vaccine/autism/tweeting” Trump having been inaugurated the evil masters behind mass poisoning-by-vaccine would get theirs.
A second very useful purpose is that very few people check the source of the material. Within 24 hours the fake news story may have been read by tens to hundreds of thousands. Even if the piece is refuted with evidence and thoroughly debunked, it is unlikely readers drawn to the key message will invest the time and intellectual discipline to ascertain a. the facts and b. how readers were deceived.
Do read Orac’s piece. It focuses on the FBI/CDC issue nicely. Not only was this fake news story published but was followed up with further fake news boasting articles with headlines proclaiming “Confirmed”.
Fake news isn’t new to those dealing with anti-vaccination lies. The anti-vaccine lobby has been publishing deceitful articles and “announcements” for years.
It seems in the present climate it is likely we will see more fake news from a range of anti-science, far right wing, bigoted groups that are finding a damaging voice to Western democracy.