Government cuts to ABC harm quality journalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that;

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

I could not agree more with Muller that;

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was reported in The Conversation in April last year;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

No reason to not vaccinate but anti-vaxxers continue to resist sound health policy

On April 17th last year Paul Offit was interviewed by Christiane Amanpour of CNN on the fact that there is “no legitimate reason” for not vaccinating.

This video very recently accompanied a February 21st article by U.S. pediatrician Dr. Edith Brancho-Sanchez, entitled Several vaccines at once might be too much for parents, but kids are just fine. The article reinforced the fact that the misinformation regarding the safety and efficacy of vaccines causes variations of anxiety in parents who take their children to be vaccinated.

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”.

Here in Australia the leading anti-vaccine disinformation group The Australian Vaccination-risks Network has called on members and fellow anti-vaxxers to heed another infamous Action Alert. They are targetting Victoria and South Australia. In Victoria the Health Services Amendment Bill 2020 seeks to provide for mandatory vaccination of healthcare and ambulance workers with specific immunisations. Ten days ago the Victorian Minister for Health published this media release outlining the logic behind the decision.

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”.

Now, it’s over to Paul Offit…

 

#DoctorsSpeakUp – Say something positive about vaccines on March 5th 2020

Dr. Nicole Baldwin is a US based paediatrician who published a video on Tik Tok in support of vaccination.

As ZDogg MD has confirmed in his own video, Stop Being Afraid of Antivaxxers and Speak Up! (below) Dr. Baldwin’s effort drew a quite predictable response from the anti-vaccine movement. Driven by belief in conspiracy theories, an obscene sense of self-entitlement and complete disregard for the safety and lifestyle of those who support immunisation, their response was reported in MedPage Today;

Members of the “anti-vax” community discovered it and launched a “global, coordinated attack,” posting negative comments across Baldwin’s social media pages including her Facebook and Twitter.

They also went for the jugular: knowing that a physician’s online presence is critical, they barraged her online review sites, including Yelp and Google Reviews, with one-star reviews to sabotage her practice.

Some even called her practice, Northeast Cincinnati Pediatric Associates, and harassed the staff. One woman — whom Baldwin described as “very angry” — threatened to “come and shut down our practice,” prompting Baldwin to call the police.

But most intimidating was a post from an anti-vax Facebook group that said, “dead doctors don’t lie.”

“Ultimately what the anti-vax community wants is to scare us into silence,” she told MedPage Today.

The hypocrisy of these attacks is breathtaking. Certainly for Aussies who must endure the absolutely manufactured fear mongering designed to defame members of Australian Skeptics Inc. and Stop The AVN. This takes the form of ongoing bogus claims by AVN founder Meryl Dorey that members of either group pose a risk of violence and/or disruption at anti-vaccine events that the group holds.

Tickets are advertised on say, Eventbrite, with a qualifying message such as this one;

The exact venue within Logan City, QLD, will be sent to the email address you used to purchase your tickets, at 4:30pm the day of the screening, Tuesday 6th December, 2016.

Or this rubbish that accompanied Vaxxed II ticket sales to screenings at “Secret Venues” in December 2019;

Due to the well-orchestrated threats of violence and abuse that come from the pro-censorship community, the exact venue will not be announced until the day of the screening.

Oh yes. That’s “pro-censorship community” to you, you evidence retentive, violent, abusive so and so.

Apart from these attacks the AVN uses social media and frequently membership emails to push harassment of grieving parents who promote vaccines, journalists, newspapers, media watchdogs and media authorities. For example note the update at the base of last months post.

Back to Dr. Baldwin. In response to the attacks on her online review sites she got in touch with Shots Heard Round The World. Founded by paediatrician Todd Wolynn, MD, it’s described as;

…a network of vaccination advocates who describe themselves as a “rapid-response digital cavalry.”

You can check out Todd’s interview with ZDogg MD, How to fight back when antivaxxers attack. Or if it suits you better head over to Soundcloud and grab the audio there.

According to MedPage Today;

Baldwin said that since she allowed Shots Heard to take over her Facebook account, they’ve been posting positive comments and blocking commenters from her page; a total of 5,000 accounts have been banned as of Monday night, she said.

Shots Heard is also helping to get the fake online reviews taken down, which is never easy, particularly with Google, Wolynn said. But ongoing media coverage likely pressed the tech giant into taking down the reviews, Baldwin said.

So that’s a promising outcome. But more needs to be done to ensure health professionals and others aren’t constant pawns in the games of vaccine conspiracy theorists. On March 5th, as ZDogg makes clear at the end of his video, is an opportunity to get online in numbers and say something positive about vaccines. Use the tag #DoctorsSpeakUp and see if you can offer some material that educates about vaccines, or indeed exposes antivax material for what it is.

We have calculated ongoing lies about the perceived “pro-censorship” enemies of antivaccinationists, the commanding of “flying monkeys” to attack grieving parents and organised en masse attacks on a professional’s online identity along with death threats. To be sure however, whatever fashion it comes in those of us who support vaccination have witnessed the anti-vaccine lobby target individuals in shocking and cruel detail.

Keep an eye on #DoctorsSpeakUp and remember March 5th.

Stop Being Afraid of Antivaxxers & Speak Up!

 

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“No balance possible between facts and non-science”

The title of this post is taken from a statement by Dr. Norman Swan, presenter of The Health Report on ABC Radio National.

Dr. Swan was responding to the failure by ABC Radio Hobart to meet ABC editorial standards as a result of the airing of uncontested and demonstrably bogus claims from anti-vaccine lobby group, Australian Vaccination-risks Network. An interview with the current president of the group, Aneeta Hafemeister was broadcast on the evening of December 4th. Hafemeister spoke with Kyia Clayton, who is producer of the programme in question: Evenings with Paul McIntyre.

This absolute debacle featured on the next edition of Media Watch on December 9th wherein viewers were informed by presenter Paul Barry that listeners to the ABC Hobart interview “were furious”. The evening following the interview, Paul McIntyre admitted he had broadcast an interview which “failed the pub test”. He also acknowledged that the anti-vax claims needed to be interrogated and fact checked by a medical expert. We’re told on Media Watch;

And so to fix the damage, McIntyre invited vaccine researcher Dr. Jessica Kaufman to debunk the anti-vaxxer message

You can listen to the audio (© ABC Media Watch) below, which contains outtakes from the original interview, or read the segment transcript. The video and transcript of the relevant Media Watch segment are available here.

 

In his statement Norman Swan observed;

This story hides behind a misplaced view of ABC’s need for balance

Indeed. More to the point, this is not the first time that the ABC has been under fire for use of the AVN (and at the time) its founder, actual leader and frequent spokesperson, Meryl Dorey. Use of the AVN does not provide any genuine balance on the topic of vaccination. Rather false balance is what the result is.

In December 2011 two complaints to the ABC regarding Dorey and editorial standards were upheld.

So this is a problem that the ABC is familiar with. In fact with the same anti-vaccine organisation.

In her exploitation of the measles tragedy to strike Samoa, Hafemeister peddled the nonsense of vaccine shedding. In response to these claims Dr. Jessica Kaufman said;

… there’s not a risk of actually catching the measles from being around someone who has been vaccinated with a live vaccine.

… that’s just an overstated and misrepresented argument …

Vaccine shedding was initially the subject of a post here in October 2011. Hafemeister sounds confident in pushing the false claim that MMR and varicella vaccines are “shed” by the recently vaccinated and can thus infect others, particularly the immune compromised.

The difficulty with this anti-vaccine trope is that after vaccination with a live virus such as Oral Polio Virus, a weakened form of the virus may be present in faeces. An immunosuppresed person who comes in contact with the faecal material might be exposed. Whether viral transmission occurs and what effect this may have cannot be predicted and indeed not generalised. These events are extremely rare and specific to certain vaccines only – such as OPV.

Sadly the anti-vaccine lobby distorts the reality and wrongly spreads fear specific to other vaccines on the general vaccination regime. Please check the references below.

The issues being misrepresented here are viral shedding and viral transmission. Notice anti-vaxxers don’t use these terms. Why? Because these terms have a body of evidence that define them. And evidence brings facts. And facts scare anti-vaxxers. Because they like to make stuff up. And facts get in the way of making stuff up. Facts like these…

Janet R. Serwint, MD referred to both MMR and varicella vaccines in Vaccines in immunocompromised patients.

MMR, varicella, and rotavirus vaccines, although live viral vaccines, are recommended for immunocompetent household contacts because transmission of the virus is rare. The lack of viral shedding with MMR eliminates concern regarding transmission. Because the varicella virus rarely can be shed through a postimmunization vesicular rash that may develop, recommendations include avoiding contact until the rash resolves. For the rotavirus vaccine, avoidance of contact with the stools by the immunocompromised patient and good hand hygiene measures by all family members for at least 1 week after vaccination should be implemented.

Some authors have advised that severely immunocompromised children should not receive live vaccines due to the risk of disease. However they do not mention “vaccine shedding”. Rather ensuring vaccination of those with “altered immunocompetence” is important.

In general, severely immunocompromised children should not receive live vaccines, either viral or bacterial, because of the risk of disease caused by vaccine strains.

[…]

Household contacts and other close contacts of persons who have altered immunocompetence, however, should receive all other age-appropriate vaccines, including the live oral rotavirus vaccines.

[]

In fact in their abstract Campbell and Herold stress the importance of vaccinating transplant candidates;

The administration of vaccines to transplant candidates earlier and more rapidly than in the healthy child will improve vaccination rates among transplant recipients while not compromising immunogenicity. The recommended vaccines and vaccine schedule are discussed in detail.

The ABC released a statement with respect to the one sided anti-vaccine interview. They note in part;

The program also failed to upwardly refer the decision to devote a segment solely to an anti-vaxxer. Had it done so, the interview would not have taken place.

This must refer to programme producer Kyia Clayton. Indeed in a voice oozing anti-vaccine empathy Clayton finishes the interview with;

Thank you so much for giving me your time and for speaking to me about this challenging issue across the planet. I think everyone’s voice needs to be heard.

“… this challenging issue across the planet”? Coming on the back of anti-vaccine waffle? Utter. Damn. Piffle. Kyia Clayton had decided that “everyone’s voice” includes the lies and misinformation of the anti-vaccine lobby.

Making a bullshit executive decision she “failed” to refer it upward for consideration. If proper procedure was followed, Aneeta Hafemeister’s take on vaccine shedding would never have gone to air.

So another concern here is that the bogus vaccine claims originally, potentially made it to air thanks to the intentional cunning of an ABC staff member.


  1. The Myth of Vaccine Shedding – SBM
  2. Vaccine Shedding – Wikipedia
  3. Understanding live vaccines and vaccine shedding
  4. Shedding of live vaccine virus…
  5. Can vaccines cause or spread diseases?
  6. What is vaccine shedding? Here’s what you really need to know

UPDATE: On December 11th and 14th 2019, MERYL DOREY summoned underlings to complain to ABC Media Watch and Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), as per the below screenshot from the emails.

[Redacted]

Dorey also claimed in her personal complaint correspondence to ACMA;

It is obvious that Media Watch has been spreading dangerous, incorrect information which could place the lives and health of cancer patients and the immunocompromised at risk.

Black Salve – The Pro-Necrotic Agent

Last April Questions for Pseudoscience published an informative video on the very nasty, dangerous, bogus skin cancer “treatment” known generally as Black Salve.

Main points might be summed up as;

  • It isn’t anti-tumour cream.
  • It is anti-skin cream.
  • It kills tissue via the caustic salt zinc chloride (listed by the FDA as a fake skin cancer treatment) and sanguinarine (a toxic alkaloid).
  • The combination of zinc chloride and sanguinarine is “incredibly lethal to living tissue”.
  • Apart from burning skin due to its caustic nature zinc chloride adversely effects other body organs and systems (eyes, G.I. tract, lungs).
  • Sanguinarine blocks sodium potassium pumps located in the cell membrane, killing cells.
  • The ridiculous myth peddled by proponents of Black Salve is that cell death can be controlled by removing the salve at just the right time so that only cancer cells are effected.
  • However once begun the process continues leading to widespread necrosis. As cells die, enzymes are released leading to the breakdown of neighbouring cell membranes.
  • A domino effect follows leading to widespread cell death.
  • Thus Black Salve is really a Pro-Necrotic Agent and will kill any tissue it comes into contact with.

In March 2012 we visited the issue of AVN selling the One Answer To Cancer DVD – a blatantly bogus promotion of Black Salve. The post included the banning of this dangerous product by Australia’s TGA, (Therapeutic Goods Administration).

The TGA at that time issued a warning on Black Salve, which was covered by the ABC’s The World Today.

  • Listen to the audio in the player below;

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