On sports broadcasting rights

CEO of Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association Andrew Maiden writes: Re. “Ignore News’ bulldust about sports rights” (Friday). You cite UK pay TV price increases in arguing that Australia’s anti-siphoning scheme should not be relaxed. The scheme, which bans competition for the rights to 1300 sports broadcasts, is an old world economic protection of the kind dismantled in industry after industry over 30 years by governments of both colours. One of the problems with the anti-siphoning scheme is that it treats sport as a public service, instead of multi-billion dollar entertainment businesses with a responsibility to monetise assets, recoup costs, pay players and officials and reinvest in sport at the grassroots level. The price for watching premium broadcasts of Australian sport is declining, not increasing.  A cable subscription with dozens of entertainment channels and premium sport costs less today than a year ago, and direct online subscriptions to the football codes are available from as little as $3 a week.

Pot, kettle, black box

Jacob Schluter writes: Re. “Rundle: the dark side to Mia Freedman’s life blather” (yesterday). After reading yet another one of Rundle’s rants (I don’t know why I do it, though this one was significantly shorter than most so thats probably why I made it through), I must take exception to his closing statements. “In the meantime, would it be too much to ask people writing about whatever this thing is that we call ‘depression and ‘anxiety’ [sic] to do a little cursory research before they sound off?”. What a wonderful suggestion.

Rundle might, however, want to heed his own advice, given that clinical research and metadata studies have for several years demonstrated that black box warnings are of no effect AND there is no increased risk of suicide in the early weeks of SSRI or SNRI therapy. Indeed, the only thing black box warnings have done is decrease the prescription of anti-depressants, potentially at the cost of missing patients who actually need those medications and associated treatments. Prescribing levels for anti-depressants in the US have never reached pre-black box warning levels in the 12 years that they have been in place and the concern we practitioners face now is the idea that depression and anxiety are being undertreated through conservative use of appropriate medications.

Like most risk management things, once a warning is in place its hard to have it removed, despite the wide availability of clinical studies that show the warnings are not warranted. I’m all for taking pot shots at self-serving “confessions”, such as Mia’s, but when your own evidence is as dodgy as Mia’s then you might want to shut up before you add to the harm being caused by the Mia Freedmans of the world.

On the death penalty

Lowy Institute Program  Director for Polling Alex Oliver writes: Re. “The death penalty continues because we want it to” (yesterday). The headline and Hussein’s commentary suggest that Australians broadly support the death penalty. Lowy Institute polling strongly suggests otherwise. In mid-February 2015, the Lowy Institute commissioned Newspoll, via its weekly telephone omnibus survey of 1211 randomly-selected Australian adults, to test Australians’ attitudes to the death penalty in relation to Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, and more broadly to the death penalty for drug trafficking in general. Fewer than one in three (31%) Australians said the executions of Chan and Sukumaran should proceed. A relatively high 8% responded “don’t know”.

Our polling also found that most Australians oppose the death penalty for drug trafficking in general. A substantial majority (69%) of the population believes that, in general, “the death penalty should not be used as a penalty for drug trafficking”. Only 26% say the death penalty should apply to drug trafficking offences. Six percent responded “don’t know”. Roy Morgan’s historical polling by telephone from 1986 to 2009 found a declining level of support among Australians for the death penalty being carried out in other countries, falling from 73% in favour in 1986 to only 53% in favour in 2009.

Hussein also states: “The problem for anti-death penalty campaigners is not only that it remains so widespread but that it remains so popular, even in countries that abolished it decades ago”. Amnesty International’s “Death Sentences and Executions 2013” report is based on a comprehensive global study of the death penalty around the globe. Of 193 nations in the UN, 98 (around half) have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. A further 35 are considered abolitionist in that, as Amnesty reports, “they have not carried out any executions during the past 10 years and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions”. Only 58 nations retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes. Amnesty’s research shows a strong upward trend over the last decade in the number of nations abolishing the death penalty.

The Australian government has been working extremely hard to spare the lives of two Australians facing execution in Indonesia, and the lives of many more citizens of numerous nationalities are at stake in the future. The promotion of misconceptions such as those put forward by Dr Hussein is, in my view, of dubious value.

The dangers of Roundup

Ingrid Strewe writes: Re. “How Roundup really works” (yesterday). There is another area of concern with Roundup. It acts on the Shikimate pathway a plant only pathway, but the flora in the gut of humans has the Shikimate pathway. Oh dear!