ABC’s Catalyst breached impartiality rules with beef report, rules watchdog

An ACMA investigation has found the ABC’s Catalyst science program breached its own Code of Practice in the show ‘Feeding Australia: Foods of Tomorrow’.

The program, which focused on sustainable food production, failed to present the production of beef with due impartiality, ACMA ruled. The ABC has said it disagrees with the decision.

“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.

ACMA found in its report that Catalyst used dramatic visual displays, emotive language and moral arguments in the beef segments, which caused an overall lack of fair treatment and open-mindedness.

“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,” said O’Loughlin.

In a statement, ABC has said it stands by the production and the Catalyst team and disagrees with the findings.

“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,” said the statement.

“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.”

ABC said it had brought the findings to the attention of the production team, but that is disagreed that beef was treated in a different manner to other foods by the program.

While ACMA did not name the source of the complaint, the Meat and Livestock Association (MLA) has released a statement stating that it was the complainant.

“Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) welcomes the outcome of ACMA’s investigation into a complaint lodged by MLA regarding an episode of the ABC’s Catalyst program, titled ‘Feeding Australia’ broadcast on 14 August 2018,” read the statement.

“MLA pursued its complaint with ACMA following an initial complaint directly to the ABC, which was dismissed after an internal review.

“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.”

ACMA also assessed the accuracy of various statements about beef production in the program and found no breach of the Code. The body said that given ABC’s strong track record of compliance it did not require further action by the broadcaster.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.