[ASC-list] Who will blackball the blackballers?

Australasian Science science at control.com.au
Wed Jul 28 14:20:38 EST 2004

On 12 July, 20 CSIRO communicators and educators put their names to an open
letter to the ASC email network. The letter was a statement of unity behind
CSIRO's Communications Director, Ms Donna Staunton, but stated up front that
the signatories did not "reflect any 'official' CSIRO viewpoint".

However, a memo distributed by Staunton four days earlier undermines the
implied claim that the letter was independent of the CSIRO Executive. "We
are currently drafting a response to the criticisms raised by Australasian
Science," Staunton wrote on 8 July. "The response will be published in the
upcoming Monday Mail and copied to the Australian Science Communicators

In the Monday Mail to all CSIRO staff on 12 July, Chief Executive Dr Geoff
Garrett stated that "a number of the articles published by the magazine are
misleading and/or factually incorrect". However, neither he nor CSIRO's
communicators provided any examples of errors published in Australasian

On the night of 19 July, six days after our August issue went to press, we
were advised of an error published in our July issue regarding Staunton's
employment record. For items 2 and 3 we had printed that Mr Andrew Mohl was
Chief Executive of AMP Ltd at the relevant times but Mr Paul Batchelor wrote
that this was incorrect and he should have been named in that position. When
Batchelor resigned in October 2002 following a tumultuous period for AMP,
Mohl succeeded him.

AMP management advises us that other points in Staunton's record at AMP, as
printed, remain correct. While we regret the error in the name of the Chief
Executive, it has no bearing on our main criticisms of CSIRO's appointment
of Staunton. CSIRO management and Staunton have remained silent on the
issues we have raised.

Indeed the major gripe that both Garrett and the 20 CSIRO communicators
articulated with Australasian Science is that Dr Peter Pockley, Australia's
most experienced science journalist after 40 years in practice, has asked
125 questions in 60 emails over 2 years. ASC-listers will benefit from some
background here.

On 21 August 2002, Pockley travelled to Canberra for an interview with
Garrett. For 90 minutes Garrett refused to answer questions, only agreeing
at the end of the "interview" to accept questions provided by email. So
Garrett got his wish, and after 2 years the number of questions, repeats of
unanswered questions or requests for clarification has grown.

In that time Australasian Science has continued to publish articles about
CSIRO science, and we will continue to do so. We will also continue to keep
a close watch on the performance of CSIRO's Executive, and ask more

But if Garrett and Staunton want to stop receiving Pockley's bothersome
emails all they have to do is correct the record in an open interview with
Australasian Science.

Guy Nolch
Editor, Australasian Science
Box 2155 Wattletree Rd PO
VIC 3145 Australia
Phone 61-3-9500 0015
Fax 61-3-9500 0255
Web www.control.com.au

> From: David Mussared <adverts at emailmedia.com.au> Date: Mon, 26 Jul 2004
> 17:17:08 +0930 To: list at asc.asn.au Subject: Re: [ASC-list]  Who will blackball
> the blackballers?
> G'day all
> A couple of weeks ago I corrected a long-standing oversight, and subscribed to
> 'Australasian Science' (including the past four months issues).
> In my opinion the magazine's treatment of this story, while robust at times,
> has mostly been within the bounds. In fact, I found it a bloody good read - a
> nice break from the genteel and pompous way science communication is sometimes
> debated. It is difficult to see how a story like this could be covered other
> than by use of commentary, and the commentary has always been clearly marked
> as such.
> A couple of times the reporter's frustration showed through in him making much
> of small things, sometimes perhaps a little clumsily (particularly in the June
> issue) - in the way any journalist might tease away at small inconsistencies
> to try and break through to a bigger story - but this is hardly the stuff to
> justify the CSIRO management response which has been reported.
> In my view, it is absolutely the public's business to debate the manner in
> which the CSIRO's research and management decisions may be influenced by
> industry and politics, to query the merits of restructures such as the
> 'Flagships' exercise, and to report and comment on controversial appointments
> like Ms Staunton's. A specialty magazine like 'Australasian Science' rightly
> shows more interest than the mainstream media in such issues.
> The number of questions asked by Australasian Science of CSIRO management does
> not seem particularly onerous in the circumstances. As a publicly owned
> organisation, the CSIRO has a responsibility to ensure its decisions and
> actions are accountable and transparent - but not the right to dictate how
> they will be reported.
> One thing which seems to be lacking in the debate so far (unless I have missed
> it) is a clear public response from Ms Staunton explaining her current views
> on tobacco's addictiveness and health effects. It is perhaps worth noting that
> although the 'Staunton Cosultancy' website is still live (and still continues
> to showcase Ms Staunton's experience representing the tobacco industry) it now
> has the following paragraph added: "Since March 2004 Donna Staunton has been
> engaged by CSIRO and is presently the Executive Director of Communications. As
> such she is not available for private consulting work." (see:
> http://www.dstaunton.com ).
> I encourage Peter Pockley and Guy Nolch (and others) to keep on digging.
> However, I also encourage them to give space to CSIRO management to put its
> side of the story.
> I would also like to defend 'Australasian Science's cartoonist Simon Kneebone
> - whose rendering of the CSIRO logo in bed with a cigarette appears to have
> got up some corporate noses. In my view the cartoon was fair comment - a witty
> and succinct way of summing up a complex controversy in a single image. I
> always like Simon's cartoons, and this was a particularly good one.
> Cheers
> David Mussared
> PS: I am interested in Rob Morrison's comments about the need for a 'code of
> conduct' for science communicators (akin to the existing AJA 'code of ethics'
> perhaps?). The prospect of this was one of my main reasons for joining the ASC
> (way back in 1995, or thereabouts), but there has been little debate or action
> on it since. Everybody in the communication cycle has a responsibility to the
> truth (not just the media) and perhaps some kind of an agreed 'code' might
> help underscore this responsibility for communicators and their employers.
>> From: "Peter Macinnis" <pmacinnis at websterpublishing.com> To:
>> <asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au> Subject: [ASC-list] Who will blackball the
>> blackballers? Sender: asc-list-admin at lists.asc.asn.au Date: Thu, 1 Jul 2004
>> 12:26:48 +1000
>> First, a declaration of perceived interests: I know both Peter Pockley and
>> Guy Nolch, and I regard trhem both highly. I have tried, in the past to
>> persuade assorted CSIRO flacks to raise their game, and been told somewhat
>> impolitely where to file my suggestions.  I have also see Geoff Garrett
>> perform, and I was severely underwhelmed at his patronising pretentiousness.
>> Those matters are irrelevant to what follows, but as the attacks this will
>> provoke will also be irrelevant, I thought I would get in first.
>> It seems there is good CSIRO and bad CSIRO.  I hope somebody from CSIRO will
>> step up and say it isn't so, but they have a lot of ground to catch up, going
>> on what I have just read.
>> I cannot believe that the people who manage things like Double Helix and
>> Science by Email would be so daft as to get themselves into the hole that
>> CSIRO's senior management seem to be in, going on a press release from Peter
>> Pockley (I have appended it below for those not on the ASC Media list). I can
>> easily believe that the heavies might do so.
>> CSIRO public/press relations are very curate's-eggish.  The youth-oriented
>> activities mentioned above are excellent (and i have been known to plug
>> them), but the CSIRO press releases I get over my desk on a regular basis
>> seem to be written for country newspaper editors in the days of hot metal.
>> With rare exceptions, they have no bite, they are bland, they are turgid pap
>> that I cannot use.  There seems to be no leadership, no sense of direction,
>> no targeting.
>> If I were looking to clean up their "good news" act, and get CSIRO's
>> excellent science on the front pages, I would probably look for somebody with
>> a bit of get-up-and-go, somebody who understood what was needed (and who
>> realised that not all end-users of press releases are rural editors).  Prima
>> facie, Donna Staunton is the sort of person I might look for, but if Peter
>> Pockley is right, I have to wonder if she was such a good choice -- even if
>> she was excellent for the tobacco lobby.  First, she doesn't seem to have
>> what it takes in the way of experience, and she appears to be heavily
>> overpaid, going on the details in the release.  In particular, I find it
>> bizarre that a government body, with such a disastrous record in getting us
>> hacks at the coalface to pay attention to their flummery, would believe that
>> they can get away with blackballing Pockley and the magazine.
>> Two sides can play that game.
>> It would be no great loss for me to blackball CSIRO's press releases. I write
>> stories that go into a resource used by around 20% of Australian
>> schoolchildren, and the number is growing, so I try to make sure that
>> Australian science gets a good run, but it would not deprive me of much if I
>> ignored the CSIRO releases completely, and relied on my own resources, or
>> even stop talking about the CSIRO altogether.  I would prefer not to do that,
>> but CSIRO is NOT the Defence Department, able to pick and choose its tame
>> reporters.  It has to take us as we are, warts and all.  We don't have to
>> take their nonsense.
>> If we, as science communicators, allow these turkeys, any turkeys, to dictate
>> what we may and may not ask or say, we might as well shut up shop.
>> Here is the release, between rows of asterisks: my details appear at the end
>> of it for any petty and petulant blackballers wishing to strike me from their
>> Christmas card list.  If you do, munchkins, please let me know, because I
>> would wear the "blackballed by CSIRO" badge with pride, just as I imagine
>> Peter Pockley and Guy Nolch will.
>> ***************************************
>> 1 July 2004 CSIRO Spins a Doosra to Senators, Staff and Public
>> An investigative study published in the July edition of Australasian Science
>> has found that CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Geoff Garrett and his Deputy, Dr Ron
>> Sandland, gave incorrect or incomplete answers to the Senate in an Estimates
>> hearing on 2 June. In articles published tomorrow, Australasian Science
>> reveals:
>> * CSIRO Director of Communications, Ms Donna Staunton, has not publicly
>> retracted comments she made about the addictiveness of nicotine while serving
>> as Chief Executive of the Tobacco Institute of Australia. CSIRO claimed in
>> the Senate that a letter Ms Staunton wrote to "a noted antismoking
>> campaigner" was a public repudiation of her stance and presented no barrier
>> to her appointment. However, the recipient of that letter, Prof Simon Chapman
>> of the University of Sydney, maintains: "Staunton's letter to me was private
>> and I only copied it as such, for information, to the Australian Cancer
>> Society board and one or two others". Australasian Science publishes extracts
>> from the letter that are not personal.
>> * While CSIRO management has never disclosed Ms Staunton's background to
>> CSIRO staff or in answers to questions in Estimates hearings, Australasian
>> Science publishes a soundly sourced account of Ms Staunton's employment
>> record. Ms Staunton brought to CSIRO 16 months experience in communications,
>> and no experience in science or its communication. Amid controversies over
>> contracts awarded to other consultants without tenders, CSIRO contracted Ms
>> Staunton on $22,000 per month for a 4-day week plus substantial undeclared
>> expenses. Her full salary remains secret.
>> * In a written answer to a question on notice (E767), CSIRO advised the
>> Senate that contracts were awarded for Ms Staunton's services through
>> "Staunton Consulting Ltd". A search by Australasian Science through the
>> Australian Securities and Investments Commission found no record of such a
>> company, either current or deregistered. There is only a record for a
>> business, Staunton Consultancy. The question remains as to the entity to
>> which CSIRO paid its fees.
>> * Dr Garrett told Estimates that as Ms Staunton is now a member of staff she
>> requires "the Chief Executive's permission" for external work. When Senator
>> Kim Carr noted that the website for Staunton Consultancy was still
>> advertising her services on 2 June, Dr Sandland replied: "I am sure that is
>> an oversight. I will attend to it forthwith". However, the website remains
>> online to this day.
>> * When Senator Carr questioned why Ms Staunton's 2003 "Communications
>> Strategy" was remarkably similar to a "Communications Revolution" plan
>> produced by communications staff on 25-27 July 2001, Dr Sandland attributed
>> responsibility for the 2001 plan to Ms Staunton's predecessor, Ms Di Jay.
>> However, Australasian Science reveals that Ms Jay did not join CSIRO until 3
>> months after the plan was finalised and accepted by CSIRO's management and
>> Board.
>> Australasian Science has directed numerous questions to Dr Garrett in writing
>> and repeated requests for an interview with Ms Staunton. All have gone
>> unanswered. Dr Garrett and Dr Sandland have neither challenged previous
>> articles published in Australasian Science nor asked for a right of reply.
>> Instead they have stated their intention to blackball Peter Pockley
>> (Australia's pioneer science reporter, with four decades of experience) and
>> Australasian Science (now in its 25th year). The full correspondence is
>> published in Australasian Science.
>> In its editorial Australasian Science criticises this stance as it
>> contradicts Ms Staunton's Communications Strategy, which seeks to position
>> CSIRO's executive team as "open and transparent leaders". Australasian
>> Science challenges Dr Garrett, Dr Sandland and Ms Staunton to make themselves
>> available for open interview and public discussion on science, its
>> communication and CSIRO's standards.
>> Please cite AUSTRALASIAN SCIENCE MAGAZINE as the source of this story.
>> Quotations and information from the copyright articles are permissible
>> provided they are sourced.
>> ***********************************
>> peter macinnis
>> Science, Technology and Mathematics writer, poetry editor Webster's
>> Encyclopedia CD-ROMs, Web resources and e-books, 36-38 Wattle Road,
>> Brookvale, NSW 2100, Australia (02) 9939-5505, fax (02) 9939-8355, (mob)
>> 0414-2.71828 International fax +61-2-9939-8355,  http://www.websterworld.com
>> macinnis at websterpublishing.com, petermacinnis at ozemail.com.au
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