Home Wi-Fi Wi-Fi stuff-up: Catalyst staff to be sacked, format to change

Wi-Fi stuff-up: Catalyst staff to be sacked, format to change

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has decided to sack all the staff of its main science programme Catalyst and replace the half-hourly weekly episodes with one-hour specials that will be sourced mainly from independent producers.

The Guardian reported today that the ABC board had approved the radical plan.

The ABC did not deny either that the staff were being sacked or that the format of Catalyst would change.

In response to an inquiry, an ABC spokesman told iTWire: "The ABC can confirm Catalyst will be part of the ABC schedule in 2017 and acknowledges the importance of the programme for the scientific community and audiences in general.

"The ABC consistently reviews programmes at the end of each year to ensure it maintains its commitment to audience needs and expectations.

"After more than 15 years, ABC Television is reviewing Catalyst's format and production model. ABC management will respond to that review in due course."

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Shown the door: Dr Maryanne Demasi.

A review was undertaken into Catalyst after a programme titled Wi-Fried, 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 and was taken offline.

The presenter of the programme, Dr Maryanne Demasi, was taken off-air until September but inquiries to the ABC about her return by iTWire were stonewalled with the response that it was an internal matter.

Wi-Fried was the second programme by Demasi to be taken offline; a two-part programme on statins in 2013 met with a similar fate.

Last week, when iTWire asked the ABC about the Catalyst review, the broadcaster said it had concluded the review and was considering the recommendations that had been put forward.

The Guardian said the review had recommended that the weekly programme be axed and all the staff sacked.

Middle management has apparently absolved itself of any of the blame for the two programmes that were taken offline.

Regarding the plan to air hour-long documentaries in the place of the weekly half-hour Catalyst episodes, ABC programme makers told The Guardian that science lent itself to shorter slots that was able to bounce off the news and that the longer format would mean a loss of Australian content.

The longer format is based on the BBC's Horizon programme and has apparently been given the green light by the board after the director of television Richard Finlayson and the head of factual Steve Bibb gave it the thumbs-up.

The Catalyst review was carried out by Brendan Dahill, an ABC executive who left to become the chief executive of Keogh Films which makes the programme Struggle Street.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.