A Catalyst episode has breached the ABC Code of Practice after the media watchdog ruled it lacked impartiality.
An August 2018 episode ‘Feeding Australia: Foods of Tomorrow’ looked at more sustainable ways to produce food, including fish, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, avocados and protein with a focus on beef.
But the Australian Communications and Media Authority found it failed to present the production of beef with the same impartiality it did for other foods.
ACMA found it used dramatic visual displays, emotive language and moral arguments in the segments that referred to beef, ruling it a lack of fair treatment and open-mindedness.
“It is an editorial decision of the broadcaster as to how particular matters will be presented. However, the Code requires that the overall presentation must still be done so in a manner that achieves due impartiality,” said ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin.
“The sustainability of Australia’s food supply is an important topic for discussion on which there will be different views held in the community. The ACMA considers that, had the program dealt with some matters differently, the program may have met the Code requirement for impartiality.”
But it gave the episode an all clear on accuracy and concluded it did not mislead viewers.
Following breaches of ABC editorial policies in its reports Catalyst was revamped in 2017, leading to staff retrenchments and longer-form episodes. Then-Managing Director Michelle Guthrie pointed to the show as an example of how ABC was refreshing its programming.
ACMA’s report has been communicated to ABC’s production team.
“Given the ABC’s strong track record of compliance with the Code, the ACMA accepts this as an appropriate action,” a statement said.
The ABC notes the report findings by the ACMA, published on 24 May 2019, concerning part one of the Catalyst program “Feeding Australia: Foods of Tomorrow”.
The ABC stands by the Catalyst team and the program, which explores key breakthroughs in food production that will help Australia find more sustainable ways to feed an expected population of 40 million by 2050. We respectfully disagree with the ACMA’s view that the program lacked impartiality and note that it found the program’s description of the environmental impact of beef farming to be accurate and not misleading.
The program, which started from the basis that Australians are efficient and effective farmers, looked at a wide variety of challenges and innovations related to several types of food production, from Australia’s first mobile hydroponic farms to the use of stem cell research in the production of avocados. The underlying message of the program was that all traditional food industries face challenges in terms of sustainability and satisfying future demand.
The program did not claim that the Australian livestock industry is unsustainable nor that red meat should not play a role as a food source in the future – beef remains a favoured form of protein in the Australian diet. The program did not take a critical stance towards beef any more than it took a critical stance towards traditional methods of other agricultural production. Rather, the program examined sustainability concerns about several traditional food industries and explored possible future food sources that may be developed, capturing the interest and imagination of viewers by focusing on the foods and farms of tomorrow – in line with the program’s title.
Consistent with the ABC’s commitment to its rigorous editorial processes, we have brought the report findings to the attention of the program’s production team. The ABC does not believe that the ACMA finding detracts from the relevance, accuracy and importance of the program.