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  1. 1


    Welcome to my world Adam. That of the clinician researcher. Where one is assumed guilty until proven innocent and where any relationship whatsoever with a commercial entity is interpreted as tantamount to malpractice.

    Likewise, clinical research needs to be organised and funded (especially in an environment where governments have abrogated this responsibility almost entirely) but that doesn’t mean clinical researchers have been bought.

  2. 2

    The title of your article in the 24-page magazine is “Breaking Point”. Doesn’t this convey the meaning of a crisis? Also, it’s a bit glib to cite the figures from the Newspoll survey in your article and then dismiss them here as “damned lies”. Finally, I never argued that “anyone who describes the health system as being at crisis point is in the drug industry’s pocket”.

    The aim of the HOTN series was to “stimulate consideration, discussion and debate about health issues in Australia”. This actually seems to be happening. Journalism is an important “health issue” because it is one of the main ways that the public gets “health information”.

    A key point of contention seems to be that you (and some others contributing to this forum) seem to be arguing that the HOTN series is just “business as usual”, where advertisers pay for ads and journalists independently determine the news content and everything is fine so long as industry funding is disclosed.

    Others in this forum see the arrangement as a new development – a new way of underwriting health journalism in which the advertisers fund the features in which their ads appear. You dismiss qualms about this as “speculative and unfounded”. But aren’t you concerned if the very arrangement raises doubts and suspicions?

    As for my misattribution of ‘consumer health initiative’, you’re right. We’re supposed to believe that the Australian Medicines Industry is a “consumer initiative”. It’s still insidious spin.

  3. 3

    Wendy Lipworth

    Adam, you make a fair point about the commentators’ knowledge of the content of the articles.

    As one of the commentators, I would, however, like to point out that I went to great pains *not* to conflate the issue of the content of the articles with that of industry-journalist relationships in general.
    “From my perspective, this gets right to the heart of the issues of industry-media
    relationships and the effects of even indirect financial ties on the content and tone of reporting.I would, therefore, be worried not so much about the content of reports in this particular series (which I am sure will be very carefully balanced if they discuss industry issues), but rather about the effect of the industry support for this series on subsequent reporting of industry-related issues.”

    Similarly, my point about advertising appearing on the same page would apply irrespective of the specific content of the articles.


  4. 4


    I’m with Adam Cresswell on this one. His journalistic integrity as far as I’m concerned is beyond reproach and for people to even think about commenting without reading the journalistic content is, quite frankly, reprehensible. The sad reality is, advertising in newspapers pays journalists’ wages. As long as it doesn’t dictate news content, I don’t see it as a major problem. Would you all prefer that newspapers don’t have dedicated, experienced health reporters and medical stories were instead written by junior reporters with no experience in handling the constant barrage of calls from PR companies hired by big pharma companies? Without maintaining advertising revenue, that’s where, I fear, newspapers are heading. I respect Croakey for raising the issue. It IS worthy of debate. I just think it’s unrealistic to expect The Australian to knock back sponsorship dollars merely because it comes from Medicines Australia. Anyone working in the mainstream media at the moment knows the tight budgetary restraints we face. In my opinion, to have knocked back the Medicines Australia sponsorship, when there was clearly no attempt to dictate editorial content, would have been a mistake. Discussions like this, keep us on our toes. That’s great. I just think in this case, concerns are hugely misguided.

  5. 5

    ron batagol

    I think it’s important to clearly disinguish between a Drug Company having a role in content eg. Drug Company-sponsored lectures about a product made by them, under the guise of education, which I do object to, and financial sponsorship without any involvement in content in an independent mainstream or medical media discussing a range of health and medical isues in a forum context, which I would have no objection to.

    Indeed, there’s a an exquisite twist of logic in the form of a question that I would raise here for the “purist, holier than thou” brigade. Why is it OK for any “opinion leader”, say a health analyst, leader of a recognised Health-related Group or a health professional to accept an Advisory Role, as they quite properly do, for an Advisory Committee, usually with some financial reimbursement, set up by Government, and yet no one would, nor indeed should, even think to question their impartiality when they offer objective criticism of some anti-Government health proposal concerning issues related to that advisory role?

    Yet, if someone with specialised health expertise, be it journalism or health professional, uses financial resources resources from the Industry to fund a project in which they control the content, we immediately conjure up the “slippery slope” concern.

    What’s the difference?

  6. 6
    Melissa Sweet

    Melissa Sweet

    Adam Cresswell asked me to post this comment on his behalf:

    “Thanks Chris. I did contact you trying to find out what you were referring to in saying I had portrayed the system as being “in crisis”, so I appreciate you taking the time to clarify that.

    There are two points to make on that particular issue. The first is that the story you refer to appeared in two separate versions, and the “Breaking Point” headline appeared in the second of those, published on October 22 in the HOTN magazine. The HOTN series proper was published in The Weekend Australian over several months, between July 30 and October 15, and the magazine was a attempt to summarise some of its elements in cut-down form. So this particular story had been published in its original, full version in the Inquirer section of The Weekend Australian some weeks earlier (in this case, August 20-21). In this, if you like “proper”, newspaper version, the headline was “Your test results” – which I trust you will agree does not support your suggestion that I was determined to wilfully exaggerate the situation.

    The second point is that the journalists who write the articles are almost never the same journalists who write the headlines. I was aware of, and had some insight into the production processes involved for the Inquirer pages, including the headlines, but the magazine was put together by a different team (ie not the news team close to where I work) and so I was not aware of the headlines until they appeared (it would have been unusual if I had been).

    I realise the distinction between writers and sub-editors seems slight, even irrelevant to outsiders, and obviously as employees we all share a collective responsibility to get things right and to provide accountability when mistakes are made. But while I don’t think the “Breaking Point” headline was ideal by any means, I don’t think either that it was enough to damn the entire article, let alone the entire series. And I don’t think it’s fair to use these two words, which were written by somebody else and appeared only on a secondary version of the story (which would, therefore, already have been seen or read by most of the paper’s subscribers) to blame me personally, as you do, for what you take to be the underlying thrust of the entire piece – while ignoring the approximately 1500 words that followed, which were written by me. I don’t believe those 1500 words comprising the story itself painted a picture of a system “in crisis” as you suggest; I think it was quite moderate, and balanced, and addressed an important issue – that of cost and access. I invite interested readers to read the piece and decide for themselves. It can be found here:

    Next, I didn’t “dismiss” the Newspoll figures as “damned lies”. You had challenged my interpretation of the figures, suggesting your own interpretation – that there is no crisis (again, I hadn’t said there was) — was the correct one. I then cited this well-known “damned lies” quote to acknowledge that statistics like this can indeed be framed in a number of different ways – and that each interpretation has its own claim to validity. You are perfectly entitled to contest my interpretation, but it’s not merely mine – the view expressed in the piece, that out-of-pocket costs (and waiting times) are posing a growing problem particularly for the less well-off, is shared by organisations such as the Menzies Centre for Health Policy, and has in the past also been championed by Croakey. I’m not asserting that I have made no errors in interpreting the figures. Instead, I’m challenging – I would argue, refuting – what I take to be your implication that my interpretation is either deliberately shaped by me to suit Medicines Australia’s interests, or coincidentally aligns with those.

    Finally, I’m not dismissing all concerns as “speculative and unfounded”. That comment was directed at several quotes in the original Croakey post which concerned the editorial contents of the series, yet seemed to be to have been made from a position of almost total ignorance of what those contents comprised. One interviewee asked if the series amounted to direct-to-consumer advertising, presumably suggesting to many Croakey readers who hadn’t seen it that the series included multiple promotions for named drugs – yet no-one who had looked at the series with even passing interest could have possibly formed such a view. No drugs we spruiked or written of in glowing terms – in fact, as far as I can recall, only one drug was even named (the cancer drug Erbitux, as part of a discussion of PBS sustainability). None of this was out of the ordinary in a story about health care costs and treatments, nor were any drug companies identified inappropriately.

    I think Amanda Wilson was right to describe the arrangement as “unusual”, and I fully accept there are dangers in such arrangements if not handled properly. However, I would argue we did handle them properly. And yes, of course I’m very concerned if, as you say, the arrangement “raises doubts and suspicions”, which is why I think it’s important to spend a bit of time engaging with you and others about these concerns, and if possible putting them to rest. To at least some extent at least, I hope I have now succeeded.”

  7. 7
    Melissa Sweet

    Melissa Sweet

    To Ron: Your comment, inadvertently perhaps, underlines one of the reasons for concern about the funding and distribution arrangements of the HOTN series. As you point out, there is considerable debate about the merits of experts being funded by commercial interests, whether to write reports or do research or participate in marketing and PR campaigns. You also note concerns about the potential for COI for those involved with government/bureaucratic agendas and initiatives. Clearly these are contentious issues, and the subject of regular debate in the research literature as well as the mainstream press. A recent Croakey post linked to hundreds of recent academic articles investigating pharma marketing and COI-related issues. When a major media organisation engages in similar practices, then clearly this raises concerns about its future ability to report upon or investigate others engaging in such practices. There are also important unanswered questions around corporate and editorial governance in this case – did The Australian’s editor know the HOTN magazine was going to be distributed by pharma companies?


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