Wednesday, 06 July 2016 07:47

ABC pulls programme on Wi-Fi, suspends reporter

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The ABC has been forced to remove an episode of its Catalyst programme from its Internet archive, following an internal investigation that found it had not met the organisation's own editorial guidelines.

The programme, however, can still be seen on YouTube. The presenter, Dr Maryanne Demasi, will not be allowed to appear on-air at least until September.

The programme, titled "Wi-Fried" was broadcast on 16 February and there were several complaints about it soon thereafter. Catalyst is promoted as the ABC's flagship science programme.

Briefly, the Wi-Fried programme, which attempted to tie the use of mobile phones and the presence of Wi-Fi devices to conditions like brain cancer, was found to have several inaccuracies.

The ABC announced its decision to pull the programme off its archive on Tuesday, with a 31-page report going into painful detail about why the decision was taken.

This is the second time that a programme with Demasi (seen below) at the helm has been pulled. In 2013, a two-part Catalyst programme about the alleged link between the use of statins and heart disease was removed from the ABC archives.

Dr Maryanne Demasi.

In a statement, the ABC said that the programme "did not provide enough context for viewers to understand that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classification of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as 'possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B)' was specifically based on a positive association found in some studies between heavy mobile phone use and glioma, and not on any potential risks having been found in relation to Wi-Fi use.

"When citing the Bioinitiative Report, the program did not acknowledge its significant scientific criticisms and shortfalls, and consequently overstated its credibility and independence.

"One statement in the program, 'newer studies showing that people who begin to use cell phones regularly and heavily as teenagers have four to eight times more malignant glioma, that's a brain tumour, 10 years later', was materially misleading as it overstated the risks identified in the relevant 2009 study, and implied that that study hadn't been considered by the IARC in its 2011 decision to classify RF electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic.

"Another statement, 'When the bombs fell at the end of World War II on Japan, we followed every person who survived. Forty years is how long it took for brain cancer to develop after that exposure', overstated the latency period for brain cancer."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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