Tag Archives: ABC

And then there were two: welcome back ABC Fact Check

The Conversation

Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation

Here at The Conversation, we are committed to publishing evidence-based journalism that aims to inform rather than persuade. In a world flooded with opinions based on alternative versions of reality, we think it’s vital that someone does the heavy lifting of sorting truth from fiction.

It’s one reason why we have been commissioning FactCheck articles written by academics since 2013. And it is why we are so pleased to see the return of the ABC Fact Check unit, which was closed in May 2016 and relaunched today as RMIT ABC Fact Check. In a time of slippery weasel words and “alternative facts”, Australia needs fact checking more than ever and it’s not something we think should be left to just one organisation.

The ABC’s return to fact checking, in collaboration with RMIT, will hopefully get the nation talking about facts, evidence and how we can all become more critical media consumers. It also reminds us of the importance of trust in journalism, and the need for media outlets to be transparent about how we work.

The Conversation’s unique FactCheck process, has been praised as a “unique and fascinating model” by the Poynter Institute in the US. It involves commissioning academic experts from across Australia to pen short articles testing statements by politicians and other public figures against the evidence. We always offer right of reply to the person whose factual claims we are checking.

We then ask a second academic expert to blind review the FactCheck draft. That means they read it without knowing the original author’s identity to check that it really is correct and impartial. The blind review is a crucial step and has helped weed out inaccuracies many times in the past. Our FactCheck Editors challenge both author and blind reviewer to support their own arguments with sourcing and high quality evidence.

Above all, we want our FactChecks to be accurate and fair, and help hold our community and political leaders to account. Our FactChecks have been mentioned in parliament, republished widely and cited by advisers helping to craft policy.

In 2017, we are continuing our collaboration with ABC TV’s Q&A program, in which we ask for viewers to send us panellist statements they’d like to see fact-checked using the hashtags #factcheck #qanda. We’re hoping that the new RMIT ABC Fact Check team will be joining us in this work soon. In the meantime we are hoping to publish more FactChecks than ever, following the expansion of our FactCheck editorial team late last year.

It’s our hope that a healthy fact-check culture in Australia will have us all listening to our public figures with a more critical ear, and asking ourselves: “Hang on, is that really true?”

So far The Conversation has published nearly 200 FactCheck articles and you can read them here. You can also request a new FactCheck at checkit@theconversation.edu.au. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

Thanks again for reading The Conversation and for caring about the facts.

The ConversationSunanda Creagh, Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs

New study: no increase in brain cancer across 29 years of mobile use in Australia

The Conversation

Simon Chapman, University of Sydney

Earlier this year, Australia saw a whirlwind tour from the electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones alarmist Devra Davis. Davis is an international champion of the belief that populations bathed in radiation emitted by mobile phones face epidemics of disease – particularly brain cancer.

Davis’ concerns were the focus of an ABC Catalyst program which attracted widespread criticism, including from me and Media Watch. The Catalyst presenter Maryanne Demasi was nominated for the Australian Skeptics bent spoon award.

At the time of the Catalyst program for which I declined to be interviewed, I had my hands tied behind my back because, with colleagues in cancer research, I had a paper in preparation examining the possible association between the incidence of brain cancer in Australia and the inexorable rise of mobile phone use here over the last three decades. Releasing our findings would have jeopardised publication, we could say nothing about what we had concluded.

Today the paper is published in early view in Cancer Epidemiology. Here’s what we set out to examine and what we found.

We examined the association between age and gender-specific incidence rates of 19,858 men and 14,222 women diagnosed with brain cancer in Australia between 1982-2012, and national mobile phone usage data from 1987-2012.

In summary, with extremely high proportions of the population having used mobile phones across some 20-plus years (from about 9% in 1993 to about 90% today), we found that age-adjusted brain cancer incidence rates (in those aged 20-84 years, per 100,000 people) had risen only slightly in males but were stable over 30 years in females.

There were significant increases in brain cancer incidence only in those aged 70 years or more. But the increase in incidence in this age group began from 1982, before the introduction of mobile phones in 1987 and so could not be explained by it. Here, the most likely explanation of the rise in this older age group was improved diagnosis.

Computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and related techniques, introduced in Australia in the late 1970s, are able to discern brain tumours which could have otherwise remained undiagnosed without this equipment. It has long been recognised that brain tumours mimic several seemingly unrelated symptoms in the elderly including stroke and dementia, and so it is likely that their diagnosis had been previously overlooked.

Next, we also compared the actual incidence of brain cancer over this time with the numbers of new cases of brain cancer that would be expected if the “mobile phones cause brain cancer” hypothesis was true. Here, our testing model assumed a ten-year lag period from mobile phone use commencement to evidence of a rise in brain cancer cases.

Our model assumed that mobile phones would cause a 50% increase in incidence over the background incidence of brain cancer. This was a conservative estimate that we took from a study by Lennart Hardell and colleagues (who reported even higher rates from two studies). The expected number of cases in 2012 (had the phone hypothesis been true) was 1,866 cases, while the number recorded was 1,435.

Using a recent paper that had Davis as an author we also modelled a 150% increase in brain cancer incidence among heavy users. We assumed that 19% of the Australian population fell into this category, based on data from the INTERPHONE study an international pooled analysis of studies on the association between mobile phone use and the brain. This would have predicted 2,038 expected cases in 2012, but only 1,435 were recorded.

Our study follows those published about the United States, England, the Nordic countries and New Zealand where confirmation of the “mobile phones cause brain cancer” hypothesis was also not found.

In Australia, all cancer is notifiable. At diagnosis, all cases must by law be registered with state registries tasked with collecting this information. It has been this way for decades. So we have excellent information about the incidence of all cancers on a national basis.

The telecommunications industry of course also has information on the number of people with mobile phone accounts.

While touring Australia, Davis was confronted with the “flatline” incidence data on brain cancer. Her stock response was that it was far too early to see any rise in these cancers. She was here to warn us about the future.

However, prominent Sydney neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo would appear to disagree about it being too early. He told Andrew Denton on ABC-TV’s Enough Rope in 2008:

If you look at the science on mobile phones and the link with brain cancer, it is quite compelling … we know that radiation causes cancer, but it takes about ten years for it to develop, so we know that EMR electromagnetic radiation is going to take at least ten years to create brain tumours and possibly longer fifteen, twenty years.

In cancer epidemiology, the concept of the latency (or lag) period is well known. This refers to the time that it takes between initial exposure to a potentially carcinogenic agent (like cigarette smoke, asbestos, or nuclear radiation) and excess cases of cancers of interest to appear.

Davis would appear to be arguing that we would see a sudden rise many years later. That is not what we see with cancer; we see gradual rises moving toward peak incidence, which can be as late as 30-40 years (as with lung cancer and smoking).

For example, as I showed in a recent Conversation piece, this paper also reports on central nervous system cancers (including brain cancers) in those exposed to atomic bomb radiation in Japan in 1945. This graph shows 110 of 187 cases (58.8%) were diagnosed in the first 40 years (before 1985) (so before 40 years).


The incidence and type of cancers of those exposed to atomic bomb radiation varied over the years. And this quote from the methods section shows that there were another 27 who died before 1958 from central nervous system cancers, within 13 years of the bombs.

We excluded 73 tumours in individuals who were not in Hiroshima or Nagasaki at the time of the bombings, 35 individuals who did not have available organ dose estimates, and 27 individuals who died or were diagnosed before January 1, 1958.

Note here that A-bomb survivors were affected by ionising radiation (that is, radiation of sufficient energy to produce ionisation). This is where the energy is strong enough to remove electrons off their atoms or molecules, including causing DNA damage. Mobile phones produce non-ionising radiation which is low energy, sufficient only to ‘excite’ the electrons enough to make them just heat up.

We have had mobiles in Australia since 1987. Some 90% of the population use them today and many of these have used them for a lot longer than 20 years. But we are seeing no rise in the incidence of brain cancer against the background rate.

The ConversationSimon Chapman, Emeritus Professor in Public Health, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs

The ABC should work with commercial media outlets, not compete with them

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

As the ABC’s managing director Mark Scott approaches the end of his decade-long tenure, Media Watch this week provided a platform for him to highlight his achievements and fire off a couple of parting shots.

It’s not ideal to see the ABC CEO using an ABC program to defend the ABC, but presenter Paul Barry did a reasonable job of representing the other side. “Too rich, too powerful, and biased” was the gist of it.

Before responding, Scott emphasised two key achievements: the launch of ABC News 24, and the move online. iView in particular, he said, had led the Australian media market in streaming technology.

Both services came from within existing budgets, paid for by savings and cuts elsewhere in the corporation. They were contentious at the time, but are now key planks in a sustainable digital future for the ABC.

Of course, these achievements are precisely the cause of criticism from The Australian and others who have accused Scott and the ABC of “imperialistic expansion” laying at least some of the blame for Fairfax’ troubles at their door.

Echoing the UK Conservative Chancellor’s attack on the BBC’s “imperial ambition”, the opponents of public service media in Australia dispute the ABC’s right – Scott would say duty – to be more than a market failure broadcaster.

Scott responded by pointing out that in the US, where there is no public service broadcasting to speak of (just PBS, supported by philanthropic donations), the death of newspapers has gone farther and faster than in Australia.

On claims of left-wing bias, and Tony Abbott’s famous “whose side are you on?” attack after the Zaky Mallah affair, Scott said:

We do a different style of journalism to the journalism that I think increasingly you see in News Limited papers and increasingly you see with different columnists as well. You know, a lot of that criticism comes from right wing commentators and they wonder, where are the strong right wing commentators on the ABC?

We don’t do that kind of journalism. We don’t ask questions about our journalists’ voting pattern and where their ideologies are. We look at the journalism that they put to air, and we have strong editorial standards that demand fairness, balance and impartiality, and we hold them to that test.

On occasion ABC journalists fail, Scott admitted, but what news organisation doesn’t? And as the Malaysian government of Najib Razak struggles to deal with the fallout from the latest Four Corners expose of alleged high level corruption and murder, we see once more what public service journalism is all about.

Scott’s other purpose on Media Watch was to argue for the continuation of current funding from the Turnbull government. Otherwise, he said, ten per cent of the news budget was at risk and job cuts would follow.

I’ve argued before that Scott leaves an ABC that is strong and confident, as well as popular with the majority of the Australian people. He’s overseen a tough digital transition and negotiated the Abbott years with skill.

In the interests of securing its place in the broader Australian media ecology, though, it may be time for the ABC to consider innovative approaches to supporting commercial media that are genuinely struggling with disruptive technologies, such as the local press.

The BBC, which has faced similar challenges to the ABC and is currently in Charter Review, provides an interesting example of what public-private media cooperation could look like.

As part of the 99-page dossier The Future of the BBC, the BBC has outlined a plan to support local news organisations. Citing declining numbers of regional reporters as “not good for our democracy, our government institutions and our citizens”, it proposes several solutions.

They range from a shared data journalism centre, to sharing BBC audio and video clips with local and regional news organisations.

The BBC has also suggested they invest funds in a Local Accountability Reporting Service. This would support 100 public service reporters to cover councils, courts and public services across Britain, with their work available to every news organisation.

While this service would be funded and administered by the BBC, any news agency or local paper could compete for the contract to cover their local area.

There are plenty of issues associated with these plans, and so far the BBC has been light on the details. There’s considerable complications around rights and attribution, and not every local media group in the UK supports it.

But it seems like an excellent way of embedding public service media in the cultural life of the country, helping to fill a gap in the public sphere that the commercial press are increasingly unable to.

Could something of the kind work in Australia’s dispersed regional and local communities? If the ABC is not the cause of the commercial media’s problems, especially in the local journalism sphere, that doesn’t mean it can’t do more to be part of the solution.

The ConversationBrian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs

The ABC’s ‘me too’ strategy puts it on track for redundancy

The Conversation

By Stephen King, Monash University

Is the ABC trying to make itself redundant? Because that appears to be its strategy. Here’s why.

The ABC is expensive. In 2013 it was allocated more than A$1 billion of taxpayer funds. The ABC claims, however, that its real funding since 1985-86 has dropped by about one quarter. And the current federal government has cut further – A$120 million in the May budget and a further A$207 million over four years.

The ABC has responded with cutbacks in “niche” areas such as women’s sport and rural services and a renewed focus on internet-based services.

But with much traditional media “doing it tough”, should we care about the ABC? Or is it simply redundant?

Why do we have the ABC?

How is the ABC different from the commercial free-to-air broadcasters?

Under its Charter, the ABC focuses on the “Australian story”. It shows:

… programs that contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of, the Australian community.

But the commercial networks have similar obligations. The three primary commercial channels are each required to broadcast an annual minimum of 55% Australian content between the hours of 6am and midnight. In practice they exceed this requirement.

Arguably the commercial networks tell the Australian story better than the ABC. In 2013, all of the top 20 programs on commercial television were Australian reality TV, sport or drama. Australian drama occupied five of the top 10 most-watched series.

The problem with the ABC is not that it is unique. Its problem is that it is not unique enough.

Is digital media the way forward for the ABC?

The ABC’s managing director, Mark Scott, suggests the ABC’s future is digital internet-based communication.

Competition in the media space is intensifying and audiences are asserting their power. The ABC needs to meet the surging audience demand for online and mobile services while, at the same time, securing and strengthening our grip in the traditional content areas. We must be the home of the Australian story and content across all platforms.

This strategy is both misinformed and misguided.

It is misinformed because, for most Australians, free-to-air television is still the dominant source of news and entertainment. Australians are spending less time in front of the television and more time in front of other screens, such as laptops and mobiles. But the shift is slow. In 2013, Australians watched an average of 96 hours of broadcast television each month, compared to just over five hours per month viewing video on a PC or laptop and a little over two hours on their mobiles and tablets.

The strategy is misguided because any unique role of the ABC is eliminated on the internet. The ABC cannot uniquely tell the Australian story because thousands of Australians tell their story online every day, using blogs and social media. The ABC cannot differentiate itself as a source of quality news when it has thousands of internet competitors, including The New York Times and the BBC.

If the ABC wants to make itself irrelevant and have increased pressure on its funding then it should concentrate on its digital strategy.

Using the BBC as a model

What is the alternative?

The UK provides a good example of how to make public broadcasting work. The BBC is one of the world’s most respected broadcasters. And it is government-owned. It thrives because the UK television industry has been reformed.

The BBC might appear to have a lot more competition than the ABC. In Australia, the government-owned ABC and SBS face off against three commercial broadcasters. In contrast, the UK, has around 60 channels, ranging from full-service commercial networks to highly specialised niche channels.

However, the BBC has a unique position. Competitive reform in the UK allowed new entry and innovation in free-to-air television. It also focused the public service obligations, such as content requirements, on the BBC. Rather than being a “me too” network, the BBC has a mandate that is distinct from the commercial broadcasters.

In contrast, free-to-air television in Australia has a commercial oligopoly that, with government assistance, prevents new competition despite there being plenty of spectrum available. The commercial networks claim that they need “protection” so they can meet their public service obligations, like Australian content.

Fine! Remove most of the obligations and open up free-to-air television for new entry. Focus the obligations on the ABC and make the ABC truly unique. This would benefit viewers through increased choice and provide an ongoing rationale for the ABC.


Sensible reform of free-to-air television will help the ABC. But its funding will remain directly tied to government budgets.

In contrast, the BBC’s funding is largely independent of government budget decisions. The UK has a “television licence” system with the majority of the licence revenue dedicated to funding the public broadcaster. While the government formally sets the fee, it does so after discussions with the BBC. And the BBC collects the licence revenue.

Australia used to have a similar system. Between 1956 and 1974, the ABC was largely funded by television licences. The Whitlam government abolished the licence in 1974, leaving the ABC exposed to the whims of government funding.

It is not clear that a dedicated ABC tax, whether applied as a television licence or funded in some other way, would be politically acceptable in Australia. But without independent funding, the ABC will face more cuts from all sides of politics in the future.

The future of the ABC

To have a future, the ABC needs to abandon its “me too” strategy. It needs to be unique. If it focuses on the internet, then it guarantees it will lose its uniqueness and its rationale.

Rather than cutting back its unique services, the ABC needs to emphasise its uniqueness.

The ABC needs to push for competitive reform of Australia’s free-to-air television broadcasting system so it can differentiate itself and its obligations.

The commercial broadcasters will oppose reform. These broadcasters do not like sharing various public service obligations with the ABC. But they like competition even less. Real reform of free-to-air broadcasting will open up the spectrum to competition and create a lasting role for the ABC.

This article is based on work in progress by the Monash Business Policy Forum looking at media reform in Australia.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. (Republished with permission). Read the original article.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs