Catalyst presenter suspended for breaching editorial standards

The ABC has removed the controversial program on the dangers of Wi-Fi from its website

Maryanne Demasi has been suspended from on-air assignments until at least September after an investigation found the Catalyst episode she presented on the dangers of Wi-Fi breached its editorial standards.

On 16 February 2016, Catalyst aired ‘Wi-Fried?’, a program about the safety of wireless devices such as mobile phones, which linked their use with brain tumours.

After receiving multiple complaints about the program, an investigation by the ABC’s independent Audience & Consumer Affairs (A&CA) unit found the episode breached the broadcaster’s impartiality standards by “unduly favouring the unorthodox perspective that wireless devices and Wi-Fi pose significant health risks”.

The investigation unit also identified several inaccuracies including: lack of context regarding risks; lack of acknowledgement of significant scientific criticism of a cited report; overstating risks identified in published studies; and overstating the latency period for brain cancer.

It was an important story topic but greater care should have been taken in presenting different points of view, says ABC Director of Television, Richard Finlayson.

Catalyst is a highly successful and respected science program that explores issues of enormous interest to many Australians. There is no doubt the investigation of risks posed by widespread wireless devices is an important story but we believe greater care should have been taken in presenting complex and multiple points of view,” says Finlayson.

Based on the findings, the program has been removed from the ABC website and Demasi has been suspended from on-air assignments until the ABC’s review into the strategy and direction for Catalyst is completed in September 2016.

The broadcaster has acknowledged this is the second significant breach for the program in two years.

A former medical scientist and investigative medical reporter for Channel 7, Demasi had also been the subject of controversy in October 2013, after presenting two Catalyst episodes that questioned the link between cholesterol, statins and ill health.

In response, the National Heart Foundation of Australia published an eight-page rebuttal of the claims presented in the program.

Dr Norman Swan also spoke out against the program, saying the show went too far and for many people, disregarding medical advice on lowering cholesterol could kill them.

More than 60,000 Australians cut back on or stopped taking cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins after the Catalyst programs aired, researchers from the University of Sydney estimated in a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

The researchers looked at the PBS medication records of 191,000 people and found an estimated 60,897 fewer people filled their statins prescriptions in the eight months following the Catalyst broadcast.

In May 2014 the ABC removed the two episodes from its website after an internal review found parts of the second episode breached standards of impartiality.

Demasi’s latest tweet regarding the current review into Catalyst states only that “the Catalyst team has been directed not to comment on this matter”.

Photo: ABC TV

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