Cater smokes it on Furnival. The ferreting out of Alastair Furnival, the junk food ex-flack who embedded himself in government, has got the Right fuming. Nick Cater described the affair in The Australian as based on “trumped-up charges” and wondered:

“If Furnival’s work for the food industry constituted a conflict of interest, what should we say about the food activists who depend for their living on maintaining the rage against sugar and fat?”

Well, most likely that the “activists” don’t make any money from reducing junk food sales, the industry does. When you find a secret cabal of hand-knitted muesli investors pushing mung beans, let us know. But the main argument is in favour of preventing any objective evidence getting to consumers at all:

“The case for government-sanctioned health labels on the front of food packaging is a weak one. Like plain-wrapper cigarettes, it is founded on sentiment rather than evidence.”

Sentiment, really? Here’s the systematic review of research on the effect of tobacco plain-packaging, with 4500 citations examined. The results:

Plain packaging has been shown to:

  • reduce pack and product appeal, by making packs appear less attractive and of lower quality, and by weakening the positive smoker identity and personality attributes associated with branded packs;
  • increase the salience of health warning, in terms of improving the recall and perceived seriousness and believability of warnings; and
  • reduce the confusion about product harm that can result from branded packs …

There’s an argument against plain packaging, but it comes from first principles, not stats. The research is clear — it works, which is why governments across the world, Left and Right, are adopting it, when Big Tobacco doesn’t bully them out of it. Was Cater too lazy to check the figures? Or has the most basic commitment to accuracy gone out the window over there? — Guy Rundle

As one former EP told Media Watch … Back when the ABC’s Media Watch program concentrated on issues of journalistic ethics and practice, one of its favourite themes was to expose the abuse of the unsourced “quote”. Sometimes — but rarely — it may be necessary to quote a source without putting a name to their words, but that privilege should always be used sparingly. Otherwise it soon begins to look like an easy excuse for convenient inventions.

Current MW host Paul Barry and his producers clearly have no such concerns. Here’s how they introduced five purportedly direct quotes in last night’s program:

“As one former News Corp editor told Media Watch …”

“In the words of another ex-News Corp executive …”

“One former News Corp executive tells Media Watch …”

“In the words of another former News Corp executive …”

“As a former executive admitted …”

In addition, we were offered three unsourced assertions, thus:

“Insiders tell Media Watch …”

“We’re told …”

“Industry insiders say …”

It is difficult to accept Media Watch as a credible critic of journalism when it shows itself to be such a sloppy practitioner of the craft. –– David Salter

Maiden’s dismissal of Medicare Locals. A Samantha Maiden article in the News Corporation press on Sunday demonstrates the political, media and public relations challenges facing Medicare Locals in the review of their roles and functions, currently being overseen by former chief medical officer Dr John Horwath. The article extensively covers the Australian Medical Association’s submission to the review, including the results of a “survey” undertaken by the AMA of its members. Leaving aside the credibility of these type of AMA push polls (and bearing in mind that less than 50% of GPs are AMA members), the article makes no substantial arguments against “Labor’s dud Medicare Locals”.

Opposition spokesperson on health Catherine King is quoted in support of MLs, but there are no comments from a representative of a Medicare Local or its national peak body. The journalist also made no effort to include any examples of actual activities being undertaken by MLs. The end result of this sloppy and biased journalism is an article that positions MLs at the centre of a political debate between the Coalition and Labor over services versus red tape. The needs of the community for high-quality, effective and equitable primary care services are invisible in this debate.

Also ignored are the significant achievements of the majority of MLs, which in a very short timeframe have evolved from divisions of general practice to include consumers, allied health workers and other stakeholders in a nationwide primary healthcare infrastructure. Clearly, there are areas for improvement. And some MLs have performed better than others; this is to be expected when making such a broad and system-wide change. — Jennifer Doggett (read the full story at Croakey)

Insert title here. You’d think on the first night of new boss Peter Meakin’s tenure at Ten the graphics department could get it right …

Front page of the day. Each day, in various languages, a pop-up newspaper is produced for the Olympic village in Sochi. Today’s edition features the dominating Dutch speed skaters …

Peter Fray

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