GENRE: Email correspondence (original; subsequent, follow-up emails)
TITLE: Breach of ABC Editorial Policy and Code of Practice
AUTHORS: Daniel Z; ABC Corporate Affairs
DATE OF FIRST EMAIL: Tue, Jun 5, 2012 at 9:13 PM
STATUS: Responded to, as follows
UPDATES: Any updates should be posted in the comments section below.
*****DZ Original Complaint*****
Comments: Dear ABC,
I am reporting a breach of ABC’s Editorial Policies (Principles + Standards, Sect. 4 – ‘Impartiality and diversity of perspectives’), as demonstrated in the following article: ‘Narromine to add fluoride to water supply’, March 9, 2012, By Robyn Herron.
According to Sect. 4, ABC has a statutory duty to present impartial information drawn from a diversity of perspectives, ultimately equipping the audience to make up their own minds on an issue.
Herron’s article cites only a single source, Bill McAnally, who makes egregious and irresponsible errors in his assertions on the issue of fluoridation. Herron fails to provide an alternative perspective in this article to counter McAnally, such as a scientist, opposing councilor, concerned community member, or interest group spokesperson.
Herron’s article also breaches the Code of Practice, which states, “The ABC is committed to impartiality: where topical and factual content deals with matters of contention or public debate, a diversity of principal relevant perspectives should be demonstrated.”
In short, the public is receiving inaccurate information from an unqualified source, whilst not being provided with an alternative perspective to allow them to make up their own minds on this highly controversial issue.
Herron, and the ABC Editorial Board, would be well advised to read the work of Connett, Beck & Micklem. This clearly and comprehensively outlines the scientific and ethical issues surrounding the practice of water fluoridation. An appropriate accompanying online resource is FAN’s Health Effects Database.
I find it difficult to believe that the reporter in question was unaware of the ABC’s Editorial Policies, since according to the ABC’s own website, “The Editorial Policies are distributed amongst all staff. An awareness of the required standards is essential for all who have editorial responsibility for ABC content.”
As a freelance writing professional, who has studied journalism, I would be happy to advise ABC reporter Robyn Herron on how to improve her article content and research practices.
I could name many more ABC articles that reveal the same lack of professionalism and due diligence on this issue, as shown in the Herron article. I have been kind in only highlighting one example today.
As a tax-paying citizen, whose hard work helps fund the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, including the wages of the aforementioned reporter, I demand that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation makes an online editorial correction directly above the aforementioned article. This correction should apologise to the public for the breach of Editorial Policy and Code of Practice. It should also state that readers are encouraged to seek out perspectives that challenge McAnally’s assertions.
Daniel Z, BA, MA
***** ABC Corporate Affairs wrote: *****
Dear Dr Z
Thank you for your email of 6 May concerning the story “Narromine to add fluoride to water supply”.
As your correspondence raised concerns of a lack of balance, your email was referred to Audience and Consumer Affairs for consideration and response. The unit is separate and independent from ABC program areas and is responsible for investigating complaints alleging a broadcast or publication was in contravention of the ABC’s editorial standards. In light of your concerns, we have reviewed the story and assessed it against the ABC’s editorial requirements for impartiality, as outlined in section 4 of the ABC’s Editorial Policies: http://www.abc.net.au/corp/pubs/edpols.htm. In the interests of procedural fairness, we have also sought and considered material from ABC News.
News notes that this story was an incremental development on the subject of fluoridation, not a discussion of the rights and wrongs of fluoridation. It is clear from the context of the article that the council has already decided in favour of fluoridating the water. In the absence of significant contentiousness in the local community, it was reasonable to report this information, including the Mayor’s justification for the decision, in a short story without addressing the controversy over the safety of fluoride.
Accordingly, while noting your concerns, Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied the story was in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standards for impartiality. Nonetheless, please be assured that your comments have been noted and conveyed to ABC News management.
Thank you for taking the time to write; your feedback is appreciated.
For your reference, the ABC Editorial Policies are available online at http://www.abc.net.au/corp/pubs/edpols.htm
Audience & Consumer Affairs
From: Daniel Z
Date: Tue, Jun 5, 2012 at 9:13 PM
Subject: Re: Breach of ABC Editorial Policy and Code of Practice
To: ABC Corporate Affairs
Dear [name removed],
Thank you for your reply, but I must insist on noting my objections to the conclusions drawn. My reasons are outlined below (please forward these to the relevant ABC department):
1. “Incremental development on the subject of fluoridation, not a discussion of the rights and wrongs of fluoridation.“
This extends generally to ABC reporting this issue. The majority of search-returned articles demonstrate a clear pattern – pro-fluoridation interests are cited, unchallenged or inadequately challenged – reading like press releases. When erroneous assertions are quoted, they are quoted without an alternative perspective to counter them. Assertions that ignore potential community health risks ( http://www.fluoridealert.org/health/ ) and make no reference to valid scientific or ethical objections ( http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/the_case_against_fluoride ), are a serious mattes, which demand proper investigative media attention.
Where and when exactly are the “rights and wrongs” of fluoridation supposed to be presented to the community? How has the ABC endeavoured to present multiple perspectives over time? Please provide a selection of articles that prove an “incremental development” of reporting by the ABC – a selection that demonstrates a reasonable balance of viewpoints and information; one which shows the community in question has been duly informed about the issue by the ABC. If the Herron article does not do this, then show me where other ABC articles have.
What gives the council the right to make this decision, when the community has not been adequately presented with an alternative viewpoint from its major public news source, the ABC? Why has not a single objection been cited in relation to the decision? There is a dearth of articles by the ABC on the issue, and nowhere have I been able to find evidence that the ABC has engaged in a concerted effort to inform the community in a balanced, comprehensive manner. Given that the Herron article is one of a tiny handful of fluoridation reports (if not the only one for Western Plains) – if this is all the community had to go by, this article should indeed be scrutinised closely for bias.
3. “Including the Mayor’s justification for the decision.”
The Mayor does not offer any valid justification for the decision within the Herron article. As I have already demonstrated, the Mayor is not qualified to make assertions on the “health benefits” of fluoridation, without encouraging the local community to seek further information on the subject. His and the Council’s decision will result in lifetime of systemic exposure to fluoridation chemicals. If the Mayor is not able or willing to empower his community in such a manner, the ABC has a duty to source an alternative perspective.
Fluoridation chemicals are added to the water supply specifically to induce physiological change in the human body, to allegedly treat a disease (i.e. tooth decay). By all measures, this constitutes medication (or drug delivery) – unlike for instance, chlorine, which is added to treat the water – not the human body ( http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL53E25EFBF102EF37 ).
Since the Council, Mayor and State Government have not obtained the informed consent of all those in the community, who will be exposed to fluoridation chemicals, this is a clear breach of the basic right of informed consent to medication. Again, this at least merits heightened media scrutiny.
4. “In the absence of significant contentiousness in the local community.”
I find it difficult to believe that no genuinely significant contentiousness exists within the town/shire in question. Fluoridation has been consistently controversial throughout Australia, and throughout the handful of fluoridating nations ( http://www.fluoridealert.org/fluoridation-status-worldwide.aspx ) around the world. The ABC has not offered adequate evidence to support its claim for the absence of significant contentiousness.
The fact that the phrase “significant contentiousness” is subjectively gauged and no evidence has been offered to suggest a lack of contentiousness, it cannot be established that the ABC is fulfilling its duty to inform the public on the issue of fluoridation; and it most certainly cannot be claimed by the ABC that a lack of “significant contentiousness” allows the organisation to void its contract with the community.
Furthermore, if the ABC had investigated and reported on the issue more comprehensively, there may have indeed been more obvious contentiousness demonstrated by the community. Contentiousness is difficult to gauge in the absence of adequate balanced media coverage; and proper media coverage often results in wider community awareness, which in turn raises contentiousness.
[name removed], I urge you to consider this question: When did ABC become a press release machine for those promoting or enforcing the addition of fluoridation chemicals to public water supplies? The organisation certainly has been limp on this issue, and this can be demonstrated clearly and relatively easily.
If the ABC feels that it can wriggle out of its responsibility of balanced reporting on issues of public/national/international contention, based upon its editorial policies, then I strongly suggest the editorial polices need to be reassessed immediately.
I strongly suggest the ABC contacts some of the professionals who composed this challenge to Australian health authorities: http://www.fluoridealert.org/Alert/Australia/OPINION-Citizens-are-being-misled.aspx
Once again, thank you for your response and for the opportunity to respond in return.