Maryanne Demasi: Popular ABC TV science show presenter claims she was discredited and fired after pharmaceutical companies complained
She was absolutely right. There are big doubts about statins. See for instance below:
A former ABC presenter has slammed the national broadcaster and TV medic Dr Norman Swan after claiming she was axed, censored and silenced by her bosses.
Maryanne Demasi was one of the hosts of popular ABC prime time science program Catalyst when it was pulled off the air in 2016 after her reporting sparked a furious backlash.
Her two-part expose in 2013 on an alleged over-use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs was a ratings success - but was later banned from ever being shown again.
It claimed some people were taking the heart medication without need, but the ABC's Dr Swan warned people risked a heart attack if they stopped taking their prescribed drugs.
Three years later, a further report on the alleged health risks of wifi and 5G sparked so much outrage the show was axed completely in its then-current format in 2016.
Now Dr Demasi has compared the furore over her stories with the mainstream backlash against anti-vaxxers during the Covid pandemic.
In a speech to an 'Australians for Science and Freedom' conference at Sydney's University of New South Wales earlier this month, she blasted her former TV bosses.
Dr Demasi said health industry critics had hit back after the statins show aired and said 'the ideas in the program were 'dangerous' [and] expressed by 'fringe experts'. '[They] assured the public that statin drugs were 'safe and effective'.'
'Do those phrases sound familiar?' she asked the conference audience. 'The phrases became a fixture of the pandemic.
'One commentator at the ABC went on national radio and claimed that people would die if they watched the program,' she told the audience.
'Australians will recognise this character - Dr Norman Swan. He rose to prominence during the pandemic.'
She said the outrage against that show had been led by the pharmaceutical industry.
'Within days, all three of the major statin manufacturers complained to the network,' she said.
'So did the Heart Foundation, which was criticised in the program for its outdated dietary advice on heart disease, and of course Medicines Australia, the body that represents the Australian pharmaceutical industry. '
She said the media had jumped on the bandwagon attacking her after Dr Swan spoke out against the show.
'His comments about my programs sparked a slew of national stories,' she said.
'[They] accused the programs of killing people, claiming that ABC had blood on its hands, and asking people to sue the ABC if they'd had a heart attack after stopping their statins because of the programs.
'To enforce the narrative, the School of Pharmacy at Sydney University came out with a study claiming that the programs would be responsible for up to 2900 deaths because around 60,000 people would quit taking statins.
'Basically, they were accusing us of mass murder.'
A six-month internal review found the show had been factually accurate but the second part of the report had slanted unfairly against the statins industry.
'I gave more weight to the view of experts (such as Harvard's Prof John Abramson and UCSF's Prof Rita Redberg), that statins were over-prescribed,' she said.
'Which was rather ludicrous since the point of the program was to highlight the problem that statins were over-prescribed.'
She claimed TV bosses told her they'd been ordered to make the problem go away and took the episodes offline, apologised and vowed never to air them again.
Dr Demasi claimed TV bosses were deliberately silencing her from defending herself in a bid to stem the controversy
'This gave the false impression that we were admitting the programs were misleading,' she said. 'Consequently, I was attacked in the media, I was characterised as 'pseudoscientific' and any attempt to defend me was censored. 'I became the target of an orchestrated campaign to discredit me.'
She said TV bosses were deliberately silencing her from defending herself in a bid to stem the controversy.
'I was unable to challenge the criticisms against me,' she said. 'I was effectively silenced by my network and they were cancelling film shoots.
'They'd send me emails saying that I was not allowed to comment publicly or privately about these issues, or else they would consider it a breach of my employment conditions.
'I was told to stop emailing my concerns because my emails could be FOI'd and become part of the public record, so if I had anything to say, I had to do it by phone or face-to-face.'
She said the pressure was huge and she regularly faced internal investigations into her work before it went to air.
'Often it would take longer to defend a program than it would to make it,' she revealed. 'Because we were on tight budgets, this was simply unsustainable.'
'And finally, I learnt that the ABC was willing to silence its own journalists in order to appease industry. This had a chilling effect on other mainstream journalists.
'The message was that it would be career suicide if you tried anything similar.
'And it seems to be a very effective strategy because I don't think I ever saw another story challenging statins in the Australian media again.'
She added: 'I think the standards at the ABC have continued to slip. 'It's a shame, because the ABC was once considered a great institution.'