March 1, 2017 – (via email) and Response

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
1 March 2017 4:30 PM
For attention: Ms Guthrie – CEO

(A similar letter was sent to the ABC Board Attention Mr Spigelman – Chair)

Dear Ms Guthrie,

On behalf of the Australian Naturopathic Practitioners Association (ANPA) I write to you in regards the ABC Four Corners program ‘Swallowing It’ aired on Monday February 13th 2017.  This letter has also been sent to the ABC Board for a response.

Much of the program was important and correct, however, there are some issues I would like to draw to your attention.

An aspect of the program that particularly alarmed our association was directing the public back to GP’s and pharmacists as the ‘trusted’ authorities for CAM.

The majority of these registered practitioners have no formal training in CAM and implying that they receive education or training in this area is misinforming the public.

Naturopaths are the experts with specialty knowledge when it comes to herbal remedies and nutritional supplements, which is backed by their government approved curriculum that includes these two modalities. Nutritional medicine and herbal medicine are clearly in the scope of practice of all naturopaths.

Geoff Thompson and his team chose not to include any naturopathic perspectives in the program, which we believe was a serious oversight. If the ABC purports to have the public’s safety and interest as a priority, then why were the most relevant experts excluded?

The ABC document ‘Responses to ABC interview requests’ included – Blackmores, Swisse, CSIRO, La Trobe University, RMIT, Swinburne University, University of Sydney, University of Western Sydney, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and API(Priceline).

The ANPA was not contacted.

The scope and education of GP’s and pharmacists does not include education to anywhere near the standard required for naturopaths in  herbal medicine and nutritional medicine.   Many pharmacists know this and employ naturopaths in their pharmacies. This was not included in the program either.

The ANPA agrees the TGA needs an overhaul. The public and practitioners need reassurance that an ‘L’ number on a product can be trusted.

What the public receive when they self-select off a retail shelf is a very different experience to that of a proper consultation from a trained professional naturopath.  This was not highlighted in your program, which is a significant oversight.

As a member of the advisory panel to the health minister for the Natural Therapies Review please be aware that the ‘review’  only assessed the ‘health practice’ of a profession, not the natural medicines or tools of trade that a profession may use. This is a very important distinction.

In fact, natural medicines were specifically left out of the review  because of the sheer volume of data that reviewers could not possibly assess within the constraints of the review. In other words, too much data and evidence in the databases for herbal medicines, nutritional medicines, other natural medicines and lifestyle interventions.

The omission of this important detail in your ABC program was another oversight.

The Natural Therapies Review was published as supporting evidence on the ABC website.

We are wondering why this would be relevant when the review had nothing to do with natural medicines.

We request that this document be removed.

Biasing the public with supposed supporting evidence for the story was problematic. The ABC as a trusted source of investigative journalism is brought into question.

“Swallowing it” had some very serious factual errors and omissions.

The ANPA requests that these matters be brought to the attention of your board.  The ABC should be providing balanced information on behalf of the public, not the vested interests who seem to have manipulated good journalism.

If risk to the public regarding ingestible medicines is high on the list for the ABC, then I invite you to review the attached document.

This graph clearly delineates where most of the harm from ingestible medicines is coming from for the Australian public.

I look forward to your response.

Kind regards,

B.Naturopathy, BSc Public Health, Med.Tech
ANPA President


March 23, 2017 – Response from the ABC

Dear Ms Brand,

Thank you for your email regarding the Four Corners report Swallowing It.  The Managing Director has asked me to respond on her behalf.

Your concerns have been investigated by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of program making areas within the ABC.  We have considered your concerns and information provided by the program, reviewed the broadcast and assessed it against the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy.

We note your statement – “An aspect of the program that particularly alarmed our association was directing the public back to GP’s and pharmacists as the ‘trusted’ authorities for CAM. The majority of these registered practitioners have no formal training in CAM and implying that they receive education or training in this area is misinforming the public.”

We have not been able to identify any aspect of the report that directed the public to GPs and pharmacists as “trusted” authorities on CAM.  The only time the word “trusted” was used in the report was in a statement by Dr Michael Gannon, the President of the Australian Medical Association –

DR MICAHEL GANNON: When we look at the most trusted professions, year on year on, I’m proud to say that at the top is doctors, nurses, and pharmacists.  So that respect has been hard won.  That’s put at risk if they’re being seen to promote treatments that increasingly the average consumer recognises might be a load of rubbish.

We are satisfied this statement by Dr Gannon clearly refers to GP’s, nurses and pharmacists as being the most trusted authorities generally in regard to health care, based on popular surveys in Australia.  He was not referring to CAM and his statement did not suggest or imply that GPs and pharmacists receive education or training in this area.  We are satisfied there was nothing misleading in his statement.

We observe that this report was focused on an examination of the complementary medicines industry generally, rather than naturopathy in particular, which is just one area of that broader industry.  The report presented a broad range of relevant perspectives from across the health sector, including Professor Avni Sali, Director of the National Institute of Integrative Medicine; Damien Gance, founder and Director of Chemist Warehouse; Dr John Skerritt, National Manager of the Therapeutic Goods Administration; Dr Michael Gannon, President of the Australian Medical Association; Professor Stephen King, Chair of the Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation Review, as well as a number of professors specialising in health from three different Australian universities, amongst others.

Audience and Consumer Affairs is satisfied there was no editorial requirement for Four Corners to present the perspective of a spokesperson for the naturopathy sector, within the context of this report.  The complementary medicines industry is broad and it is not possible to cover every aspect of it within the one broadcast.  It is important to understand that impartiality does not require that every perspective receives equal time, or that every facet of every issue is presented.

Please be assured that your comments regarding what you believe should have been included in this broadcast have been brought to the attention of the program’s Executive Producer.

We note your claim that the broadcast contained “very serious factual errors”.  If you would care to substantiate that claim with reference to specific examples, we will be happy to consider them.

The link to the Natural Therapies Review was not posted on the program’s website as supporting evidence for the broadcast.  It is a public document that relates to the broader complementary medicines issue that Four Corners believe may be of interest to its audience.

The ABC Code of Practice is available online at the attached link;

Should you be dissatisfied with this response to your complaint, you may be able to pursue the matter with the Australian Communications and Media Authority

Yours sincerely,

Kirstin McLiesh
Head, Audience and Consumer Affairs