ABC Catalyst reporter Dr. Maryanne Demasi should not return to a presenting role, says Media Watch host Paul Barry.
Demasi was suspended last week until September, following an internal investigation into her report “Wi-Fried” which aired earlier this year.
Last week, the ABC’s Director of Television, Richard Finlayson said the report breached ABC Editorial Policy and suspended her whilst a wider review into the show would take place.
Media Watch described it as Demasi’s fourth such program, after a July 2015 story on anti depressants, and a May 2016 report linking diet and Alzheimers were both pulled by ABC Editorial Director Alan Sunderland.
Media Watch posed a series of questions to Sunderland who responded as follows:
1. Why has Dr Demasi not been sacked?
The findings by the ABC’s independent, internal complaints investigation body – Audience and Consumer Affairs – have identified editorial breaches in content. Those investigations and those findings relate to the content aired by the ABC, and not to the conduct of any one individual. The responsibility for those breaches is shared by a range of people at the ABC – both among the Catalyst team and among others responsible for overseeing content and maintaining standards. Those issues are being worked through in an appropriate manner with all involved.
2. Why has she been allowed to continue reporting for Catalyst until this week?
The current breaches, which relate to content and not to individuals, were only finalised and confirmed in the past few days.
3. Why has her work not been subject to extra, effective oversight?
Breaches of editorial standards are always followed up with reporters, producers and program teams and, where necessary, this often involves additional oversight. The issues at Catalyst have been handled consistently with this approach.
4. Why was ‘Wi-Fried’, which breached accuracy and impartiality guidelines five times allowed to go to air, given it was subject to editorial review.
The program was subject to input, editorial oversight and discussion from a range of people within the ABC with the aim of ensuring it met appropriate editorial standards. That process was clearly not successful in this instance. Editorial review of content before publication is designed to identify risk and potential problems but not to re-investigate all the source material or replicate the detailed research for each piece of content.
5. More broadly, why has the ABC’s flagship science program continued to operate without a full-time Executive Producer, as programs like 4 Corners and 7.30 Report do?
Catalyst has a Commissioning Editor and a full-time Series Producer, and the team has consistently delivered high quality content that meets all the ABC’s editorial standards and makes for compelling and respected programming, week after week for a great many years. We have now had a second significant breach in approximately two years and that means all aspects of the program can and will be reviewed.
6. Why have measures not been taken to strengthen its editorial oversight?
Whenever an editorial breach finding occurs, there is close scrutiny of the implications and an internal focus on lessons learned.
7. Has the ABC’s reputation for fair and balanced science reporting been damaged.
Every breach of editorial standards causes potential damage to the ABC’s reputation, and this example is no different. The ABC takes these matters seriously and that is why our response is to transparently investigate and publish the findings.
8. Does Dr Demasi accept the findings of the two ABC inquiries that her programs were at fault?
The ABC, including the TV Division and Catalyst, accept and have prominently acknowledged and published the breach findings. We are continuing to work through the findings with Dr Demasi.
9. What is the aim of the Catalyst review?
The ABC has a reputation across all of its platforms for high quality, innovative and compelling science journalism. The purpose of the Catalyst review is to ensure the program continues to deliver on its brief as an important part of the ABC’s overall science output.
“As for Dr. Demasi, we believe she has to go,” said Barry, noting she did not accept she was at fault.