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31 October 2016

Australia: ABC's Catalyst Staff to be Sacked and Weekly TV Show Format Scrapped

What happened to freedom of speech?!

ABC's Catalyst staff to be sacked and weekly TV show format scrapped

by Amanda Meade, The Guardian/ msn.com, 
31 October 2016

The ABC’s Catalyst program is to lose its weekly slot and its 11 staff – including the suspended presenter Maryanne Demasi – made redundant under a radical plan which has been approved by the ABC board.

Under the plan the in-house magazine-style program will be replaced by 17 one-hour science specials, mainly from the independent production sector.

But senior ABC program makers have warned that ditching the weekly half-hour program and disbanding the science unit would lead to a dumbing down of science programming and effectively kill off Australian science on television.

Demasi has been on leave since a review of her Wi-Fried? program – which linked Wi-Fi and mobile phones with health risks including brain cancer – was found to have breached the ABC’s impartiality guidelines.

The discredited program was the second Catalyst story by Demasi to be found in breach of the ABC’s editorial policies and to be removed from the website. In 2013 Demasi kept her job despite an editorial breach for a program about statins.

An internal management review, commissioned in the wake of the Demasi breaches, has now recommended that the entire weekly program be axed along with its presenters, producers and researchers.

Senior program makers and independent producers claim that middle management has “absolved itself” of any responsibility for the the lack of editorial control at Catalyst that led to the two programs being cleared for broadcast.

Of the plan to air hour-long documentaries under the Catalyst name, ABC program makers say science lends itself to short-form content that can bounce off the news. Under the longer format, they say, the Australian element would be severely watered down.

“By doing this you are saying the ABC TV stops covering science effectively,” one senior ABC program maker told Guardian Australia. “Seventeen in-depth stories a year wouldn’t cover Australia science. If you stop doing short-form journalistic science then you’re not covering science anymore.

“There are very, very few science stories that survive an hour of television. There are only a few topics like that. A lot of them to do them well require an overseas focus rather than an Australian focus.

The Catalyst staff include the experienced presenter Graham Phillips, who has been a reporter on the ABC science programs Catalyst, Quantum and Hot Chips, and Jonica Newby, who has twice won Australia’s premier science journalism prize, the Australian Museum Eureka prize for science journalism.

The plan to shake up the ABC’s science coverage, based on the BBC’s Horizon model, was approved by the board after a recommendation from television management including the director of television, Richard Finlayson, and the head of factual, Steve Bibb.

The report into Catalyst was written by the departing ABC executive Brendan Dahill before he left to be the chief executive of Keogh Films, which produces Struggle Street.

An independent producer told Guardian Australia the plan was unworkable on the relatively small budget the ABC was offering the private sector. She saidcommissioning 17 one-hour science specials had not been properly costed and would never work.

“They have specifically decided not to do any ‘investigative’ films and want lightweight stuff,” she said.

The independent report on Wi-Fried? concluded: “The cumulative effect of the inadequate signposting for the audience; the selection and lack of context in the scientific papers referenced in or underpinning the program; the prominence given to views challenging the scientific consensus; and the findings for accuracy all unduly favour the unorthodox perspective that wireless devices and Wi-Fi pose significant health risks.”

A spokesman for the ABC confirmed that Catalyst was under review. “The ABC can confirm Catalyst will be part of the ABC schedule in 2017 and acknowledges the importance of the program for the scientific community and audiences in general,” he said.

“The ABC consistently reviews programs at the end of each year to ensure it maintains its commitment to audience needs and expectations. After more than 15 years ABC Television is reviewing Catalyst’s format and production model. ABC management will respond to that review in due course.”

http://www.msn.com/en-au/news/australia/abcs-catalyst-staff-to-be-sacked-and-weekly-tv-show-format-scrapped/ar-AAjCWnN?li=AAgfYrC&ocid=mailsignout#image=1

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