Several weeks ago, I submitted a  complaint to ABC Audience & Consumer Affairs regarding a story that ABC Science had run on the HPV vaccine.

The story concerned a study in progress from well known anti-vaxer Judy Wilyman (for more background see Dave the Happy Singer’s blog post).

ABC Science presented her views in a completely credulous fashion omitting any context that she has lectured with the sometimes-president of the AVN Meryl Dorey and has close affiliation with the AVN. (In response to my complaint about this lack of disclosure, the ABC apparently asked Ms Wilyman if she was affiliated with the AVN and when she said no, they were satisfied with her response).

As you’ll see below, they have also taken out of context my complaint that her views should have been reported along with a declaration that she does have anti-vaccine affiliations to say I don’t think her views should have been reported at all. This was not what I was trying to say and I don’t think my complaint conveys this (it’s reproduced below so you can decide for yourself – let me know in the comments if you think it does).

Overall, I am extremely dissatisfied with this response. I wouldn’t care if her piece was presented as opinion – but it was presented as science with comments from Prof Booy (one wonders why he keeps getting quoted in such articles – it only serves to boost the legitimacy of the anti-vaxer and does nothing for his reputation).

It also comes off as rather patronising in my opinion, beginning with addressing me as “Ms” when my correspondence was from “Dr”. You’ll also note below that ABC neglected to address my comment about an internal ABC memo which stated that any material or interviews which involve the AVN or affiliates must be published in context so that readers are aware the information is not based on evidence.

I think this was a rather important point which the ABC decided to gloss over.

There is much more to say on this, but I am currently at a conference which has been going for 12 hrs so far today and I haven’t had dinner yet. I’ll get back to this later.

Thanks to Ken and Carol for the tip-off to this poster. I’ve annotated it for the ABC just so they can understand.



To: Audience & Consumer Affairs
From: Rachael Dunlop
Subject: ABC Science HPV story
Date: 14/10/11 17:20

Below is the result of your feedback form. It was submitted by Rachael Dunlop
ABC program: ABC Science

Response required: true

Date of program: 131011

Contact type: Complaint

Location: NSW

Subject: ABC Science HPV story

Comments: Yesterday ABC Science online published an article questioning the safety of the HPV vaccine.

The PhD student interviewed is a well known anti-vaccine campaigner who is affiliated with the Australian Vaccination Network.

The AVN was investigated by the HCCC in 2010 who issued a public warning about their website here

In short: The Commission?s investigation established that the AVN website:

• provides information that is solely anti-vaccination
• contains information that is incorrect and misleading
• quotes selectively from research to suggest that vaccination may be dangerous.

Indeed the ABC issued a warning to staff in July 2010 stating that “it’s vital that programs provide adequate context to ensure listeners clearly understand the AVN is a lobby group”.

Why were the affiliations of Wilyman not made clear? A declaration should have been published stating she is an anti-vaccine lobbyist.

Perhaps a better headline for this story would have been “Evidence for HPV vaccination questioned by anti-vaccine campaigner”. That this anti-vaccine nonsense was published on an ABC science website is a disgrace.

Network – ABC Online
RecipientName – Audience & Consumer Affairs
Referer – Complaint

My comments in bold (more comments to come)

Dear Ms Dunlop

That’s Dr to you thanks

Thank you for your emails regarding the ABC Science story ‘Evidence for HPV vaccination questioned’, published on 13 October.

In accordance with the ABC’s complaint handling procedures, your correspondence was referred to Audience & Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of program making areas within the ABC. The role of Audience & Consumer Affairs is to investigate complaints alleging that ABC content has breached the ABC’s editorial standards (available here:

Yeah, thanks for that, but that was where I sent my email you dolts. See
To: Audience & Consumer Affairs
From: Rachael Dunlop
Subject: ABC Science HPV story
Date: 14/10/11 17:20

I also want to add here that our initial complaints were made on Twitter to @ABCScience and the editor of the latter, @ScienceNewsGeek (Darren Osborne).


I did this (a copy of my email to Darren can be found here), I also made a direct complaint to Audience and Consumer Affairs which is addressed in this post.

Contrary to what Darren said about “a few days” I did not hear back regarding my direct email to him. I tweeted to him a few days later to enquire about the status of my direct complaint and was told that apparently all complaints had now been sent on. This was despite the fact that I had already complained to ABC Audience Liaison. I received this (unsatisfactory) response from Darren when enquiring further about this;

Anyway, on with the “defence” of this nonsense by Audience and Consumer Affairs.

I understand you believe the story should have disclosed the affiliations of Judy Wilyman, one of the interviewees whose views it reported, and that she is an “anti-vaccine lobbyist”.

In addition, I understand you believe it was irresponsible and disgraceful for the story to report her views.


Taking my comments out of context much? Yeah I see what you did there clever Consumer Affairs Peeps.

In context, I said presenting her “anti-vaccine nonsense” as if it were science with no disclaimer to indicate she has an anti-vax agenda was “totally irresponsible” and “absolutely disgraceful” particularly in the context of a recent resurgence of vaccine preventable diseases. I think I made this quite clear.

Judy Wilyman can say what she likes when it presented as opinion but you presented it as science when it was a purely a grab bag of anti-vax canards thinly disguised as science.

This was clear as day to anyone who has done their research, which apparently ABC Science has not (and is not willing to do so, beyond asking Judy Wilyman herself – see below).

Oh wait! But someone in the comments has. They Googled “Judy Wilyman” and “Meryl Dorey”and got a link to an Australian Vaccination Network blog post describing when they gave talks together. Actually the same link I provided you in my original complaint. Did you not see it?

The ABC Editorial Policies do not contain a specific standard requiring disclosure of information about interviewees.

Maybe not, but there was this memo which YOU distributed to YOUR own staff in July 2010 following the public warning about the AVN issued by the HCCC

Excerpt from internal ABC memo sent July 28th 2010 following the HCCC public warning

However, the manner in which factual content – including information about interviewees – is presented is subject to the accuracy standards set out in section 2 of the Editorial Policies:

“2.1 Make reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts are accurate and presented in context.

This was kinda my point – you didn’t do this

2.2 Do not present factual content in a way that will materially mislead the audience. In some cases, this may require appropriate labels or other explanatory information.”

^^^ ummmm this?

In light of your concerns, Audience & Consumer Affairs has reviewed the story, considered information provided by ABC Innovation (the division responsible for the ABC Science website), and assessed whether these editorial standards were met in the presentation of information about Ms Wilyman.

Ms Wilyman was described in the story as someone “who is completing a PhD on the Australian government’s vaccination policy at the University of Wollongong” and “who has a Master of Science in population health”. These descriptions were accurate. As well as quoting from and paraphrasing Ms Wilyman’s views, the story included a direct link to the paper in which her views were outlined in detail.

I note your view that Ms Wilyman is an anti-vaccine campaigner and is affiliated with the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN). Audience & Consumer Affairs has found no evidence indicating that Ms Wilyman has particular affiliations which needed to be disclosed in the story in order for readers to make their own judgements about her claims. We have found no evidence indicating that Ms Wilyman is a member of the AVN, and ABC Innovation has advised that Ms Wilyman has denied being a member of or having any affiliation with this group. (translation – are you anti-vaccination? No? Okay then, thanks!)

In our view, readers were provided with sufficient information about Ms Wilyman to form their own conclusions, and the manner in which she was presented was not materially misleading.


While we are satisfied that the relevant editorial standards were met, please be assured that your comments about Ms Wilyman and the AVN, and your view that it was irresponsible for ABC Science to report her view…

Again, it was irresponsible to report her views without context and since when has science been about “views” and not evidence. ABC Science – WE DON’T NEED NO STICKIN’ SCIENCE!111),

…have been noted and conveyed to ABC Innovation management. Thank you for bringing your concerns to the ABC’s attention.

Yours sincerely

Simon Melkman
ABC Audience & Consumer Affairs


Do some stinkin’ research ABC. Cause this nonsense make ABC Science seem like an oxymoron.

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