Catalyst lashed by Media Watch over cholesterol programs

Media Watch, Australia’s leading forum for media analysis and comment, has lambasted the journalism behind the ABC’s recent Catalyst programs on cholesterol describing them as ‘sensationalist and grossly unbalanced’.

Giving up on the search for truth was the title of an article about declining standards of journalism penned by Nick Cater, the Editor of the Weekend Australian, on 2 November. Cater wrote By abandoning the pursuit of truth, modern journalism appears to have fallen for the philosophical error that blights modern academe … The empirical route to knowledge through investigation, observation and reason is rarely respected. Instead, journalists have come to believe knowledge comes through revelation …  Cater was primarily talking about political journalism but his comments rang true in the light of the recent Catalyst programs on cholesterol.

Assessment by Media Watch

Fortunately, some journalists take their profession seriously. MediaWatch was scathing of the quality of the journalism behind the ABC’s Catalyst programs. For those who are unfamiliar with Media Watch, it is an ABC television program that analyses the media for Conflicts of interest, … deceit, misrepresentation, manipulation, plagiarism, abuse of power, technical lies and straight out fraud … Media Watch turns the spotlight onto those who literally ‘make the news’. We also keep an eye on those who try to manipulate the media: the PR consultants, spin-doctors, lobbyists and “news makers” who set the agenda’.

In commenting on the Catalyst programs, Media Watch presenter Paul Barry said Now, Media Watch is not going to take sides in this scientific debate. But looking at the journalism we’re almost as shocked as the doctors. Both episodes of Catalyst struck us as sensationalist and grossly unbalanced; and some of their so-called ‘experts’ had questionable qualifications.

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Catalyst: was the ABC enlisted to sell palm oil?

The cholesterol controversy featured on the ABC’s Catalyst program had nothing to do with science – it appears to have been designed to sell palm oil. Was the Catalyst team naive or complicit?

ABC television’s science program Catalyst recently ran two programs purporting to expose the myths about cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. In the first program the role of saturated fat in increasing risk was challenged and in the second the efficacy of statin medication for lowering coronary risk was put under the spotlight.

The programs provoked a storm of controversy, even within the ABC, because of their bias and potential to mislead. The ABC’s own health reporter Dr Norman Swan was irate, declaring on Radio National that “People will die as a result of the Catalyst program …”. Swan also conducted an excellent interview with Professor Peter Clifton on The Health Report as a means of countering the mischief caused by his colleagues at Catalyst. It’s well worth a listen.

Catalyst used to be a respected, evidence-based science program. How did it come to this?

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