Media Watch: Science experts question Catalyst revamp


ABC’s decision to revamp Catalyst continues to attract comment.

Last night Media Watch quoted a number of Science experts who questioned the decision to switch from a half hour format to 17 documentaries. Many are dubious a level of quality can be maintained.

Fiona Stanley, Professor, School of Paediatrics & Child Health, University of Western Australia, and former ABC board member said:

“By all means have the big in depth stuff, the panoramas, but we need the short magazine-style pithy stuff. Catalyst was getting good ratings and I wonder what the rationale is behind this massive change. You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Professor Simon Chapman, told ABC Radio:

“It would be interesting to hear management try to explain why they are tossing out into the street the premier science communication team in this country.”

Independent producer Simon Nasht told Fairfax:

“One-hour science films are complicated to make, and very hard to bring in on budget and on time.”

Award-winning producer Sonya Pemberton also told Media Watch:

“Seventeen one-hour ‘world-class’ science documentaries on air in 2017 would be an extraordinary achievement, but is it workable?”

“… Catalyst, for all its recent faults, provided a much-needed avenue for accessing quality science programming. Yes, it’s due for a change, but I’m concerned that this is not a workable approach.”

Meanwhile Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland; Joan Leach, Professor, Australian National University, and Merryn McKinnon, Lecturer, Australian National University collectively wrote in The Conversation:

“Within the traditional broadcast media context, it is difficult to identify a program that consistently delivers critical appraisals of science and its implications.

“Sure, there exists plenty of other options for science stories to be told in the media and Australia oozes talent in science communication. This includes the award-winning Jonica Newby of Catalyst who finds her future in question.

“But all of this talent needs a vehicle.”

However ABC’s Director TV Richard Finlayson said:

“This change is about what is best for audiences. A single issue, one-hour format will allow us editorial depth, more effective promotion, and more cut-through for ABC Science.”


  1. That’s one way to get rid of Maryanne Demasi, a bit extreme perhaps, but I hope Jonica Newby gets another gig. She and Graham Phillips at the least. They have science cred and are good presenters.

  2. The idea of a science show sounds good but I’m afraid they committed suicide with their reports about heart statins and that other piece of total BS by the same reporter. GPs and cardiologists are still trying to convince patients that the report was rubbish and to keep taking their medication. I’m surprised that reporter didn’t do an anti-vaccination story as well. Catalyst had become a public nuisance and a threat to community safety and the show should have been yanked off the air months ago.

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