ABC’s Catalyst program in breach

The ABC did not meet is statutory duty to ensure impartiality in the gathering and presentation of news and information in a science program which strongly featured the Australian beef industry, the fair journalism watchdog, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has found.

The Catalyst program, titled ‘Feeding Australia’, aired in August last year.

MLA pursued a complaint with ACMA on behalf of red meat producers following an initial complaint directly to the ABC, which was dismissed after an internal review.

The ACMA investigation found the program had “an absence of references to improvements in beef production and that the presentation of beef as the only case study in which replacements for the existing food were presented.”

Here, Friday Feedback speaks with MLA’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Lisa Sharp about the finding and why MLA pursued the issue.

Q: What did MLA take issue with?

A: MLA set out in its initial complaint to the ABC, that the commentary and reported facts presented by Catalyst were misleading and inaccurate regarding Australia’s beef production’s water use and impact on the environment.

One of the central complaints from MLA about the program was that it was also not a fair representation of Australia’s beef production system.

MLA noted that while the program took the time to investigate and report on the current research and development being undertaken in many other agricultural sectors (e.g. barramundi farming), it chose not to do the same for the Australian beef industry.

Q: Why did MLA take action on the ABC report?

A: This was a course of action MLA did not take lightly. As a science program with a national audience, Catalyst and the ABC – as the public broadcaster – had a responsibility to present the most accurate information to all Australians.

Unfortunately, instead we believe the program failed to use information that is reflective of Australian beef production and grossly overestimated claims of environmental impact in order to promote alternative protein sources. Red meat producers rightly expect impartial coverage of their work, especially to metropolitan viewers.

Q: What does the finding mean for the Australian beef industry?

A: Australian red meat producers are proud of the work they do. Our Australian beef and lamb is in high demand both domestically and in many international markets – the result of the strong reputation of our producers and our production systems.

Producers and our industry have also been extremely proactive in their focus on continual improvement around sustainability, including industry initiatives such as the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework. Ongoing significant research and development investments in the productivity and sustainability of our industry includes a goal of being carbon neutral by 2030. It is this work – in many cases world-leading – that we would have liked to have seen highlighted by Catalyst in their program.

Q: What happens next?

A: While there’s no further action required in this specific matter from MLA, we strongly believe that the outcome should help to set a precedent. Fair, accurate and impartial reporting is crucial to reflect the efforts of producers across Australia who produce a high quality and sustainable product that is valued and enjoyed by consumers around the world.

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