ABC Catalyst report found to have breached impartiality rules – UPDATED

Beef Central, 24/05/2019

This article has been updated to include a full statement from ABC in response to the ACMA investigation:

The ABC breached the impartiality provisions of its own Code of Practice in a Catalyst program ‘Feeding Australia: Foods of Tomorrow’, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has found.

This was despite an ABC internal investigation in response to a formal complaint from Meat & Livestock Australia last year finding the program had no case to answer. See Beef Central’s original article highlighting the issue here.

The program was focused on more sustainable ways to produce food, including fish, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, avocados and protein with a focus on beef.

An ACMA investigation found that the program failed to present the production of beef with due impartiality, as it did for other foods.

‘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 ACMA found Catalyst used dramatic visual displays, emotive language and moral arguments in the segments that referred to beef. In aggregate, these caused the program to demonstrate a 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 Ms O’Loughlin.

The ACMA also assessed the accuracy of various statements about beef production in the program and found no breach of the Code.

As a result of the ACMA investigation, the ACMA’s report has been communicated to the program’s production team. Given the ABC’s strong track record of compliance with the Code, the ACMA accepts this as an appropriate action.

ABC responds to ACMA findings:

In a statement released in response to the ACMA investigation the ABC says it stands by the Catalyst team and the program:

“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.

The ACMA report findings are available here:



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  1. Deb Newell, 28/05/2019

    I wrote the attached comment piece after the Catalyst program first appeared, questioning the accuracy of much of its content, and the obvious bias.

    Deb Newell

  2. David Foote, 27/05/2019

    As participants in the beef supply chain – we should thank those that made the concerted effort to challenge the Catalyst program’s story line

  3. Tony, 27/05/2019

    About time the ABC had a good clean out and the network be made return to serving the people of Australia and not the far left political groups.

  4. David Connellan, 27/05/2019

    The original UN reports from the 1990s that keep getting quoted from by ABC and others have been widely discredited by mainstream scientists – the UN has even admitted it – yet the reports continue to be used as ‘evidence’ by the anti-meat agenda

  5. David Hill, 26/05/2019

    I too received a reply from the ABC in response to a formal complaint that I had made, my complaint was in regards to the water use and feed consumption rates claimed in regards to beef production in the program.
    My reply stated that all the production claims were based on accepted UN reports, this then prompted me to look at the reports which were largely based on an original report done in the mid 90’s which even admitted that the water use for beef production in regards to extensive pasture based production systems was largely based on assumptions.
    In my opinion this is bigger than the ABC, we have already seen some statements from the UN in regards to beef production, we now have the ACMA stating in regards to this matter that they had assessed ‘the accuracy of various statements about beef production in the program and found no breach of the code’!
    The one that sticks in my head is that it takes 25kg of soybeans to produce 1kg of beef, anyone that has some knowledge of our industry would question the accuracy of these claims.
    The validity of some of these claims, the data and methodologies would seem to be flawed, at what point are we going to push back and possibly looking at setting up our programs to investigate the actual resource use in regards to the production of beef in this country? My first thought about the frustration of this matter is that is that it seems that the water use attributed to our industry is based on the total amount of rainfall received, and not allowing for any runoff. We then find in another instance that this runoff is somewhat responsible for the degradation of the Great Barrier Reef. It is obvious that we have many areas where we need to refute claims in regards to our industry, it probably way past the point where we need to make a start!

    David Hill
    These opinions are my own.

  6. Lee McNicholl, 25/05/2019

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for “Auntie” to admit that she could be biased and not living up to her “impartiality” standards.
    Her coverage of the recent election puts paid to that.
    Perhaps taxpayers should demand a “catalyst” for change at the ABC making it more sustainable by 2050!!

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