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6 Comments

  1. 1

    James Gillespie

    It would be helpful if someone could point to something in the articles that constituted a conflict of interest. It is notable that Phillip Clarke’s astringent attack on current funding arrangements for generics was included in the liftout. If implemented, his proposals would remove hundreds of millions from the PBS bill and the profits of members of Medicines Australia. Its inclusion suggests – in the absence of contrary evidence from elsewhere in the supplement – that in practice, standards of independence were maintained.
    Blanket bans on fully declared industry sponsorship of – in this case – serious research may muddy attempts to expose covert attempts to influence news and research agendas. I would be interested if anyone can show that the survey questions or choice of topics seem influenced by such manipulation.

    James Gillespie, Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney

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  2. 2
    Melissa Sweet

    Melissa Sweet

    Jim, as I mentioned briefly above, I think it is a distraction to focus on the content of the articles. Knowing the journalists involved, I am aware of their commitment to independent reporting. But that is exactly what makes the magazine such an excellent investment for Medicines Australia, which now has an attractive publication clearly branded by MA, and featuring work by leading health journalists and also featuring prominent health policy experts. This is a far more valuable product, from a marketing point of view, than if the magazine simply featured soft journalism or material written by PR people. If I was working in marketing for Medicines Australia, I would regard this outcome as quite a coup. In many ways, it is a similar argument as when health or medical reports are funded by industry but independently written by experts. It is just this arrangement which gives the credibility and the connections that the industry seeks.

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  3. 3

    James Gillespie

    Melissa, My problem is in seeing what is wrong with this, if it is all transparent. If there had been secret funding, and if the survey had triumphantly supported some cause championed by Medicines Australia (rather like the fake articles and journals both Pharma and Tobacco have secretly sponsored or ghost written) there would be a major problem. But this is a serious piece of research with no evidence of manipulation by industry interests and advertising that is clearly demarcated from the main text. And, as i pointed out, at least one piece that clearly attacks the industry’s interests.
    Every medical journal I know is subsidized by advertising and less open subsidies, such as purchase of off prints, but this does not immediately cast automatic doubt over their independence. It qactually blurs the case against real transgression if the bow is drawn so wide.

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  4. 4
    Melissa Sweet

    Melissa Sweet

    Jim, some quick points in response:

    1. Perhaps people outside the media don’t fully appreciate the industry’s tradition of not linking editorial to specific advertisements (at least outside of advertising supplements, lifestyle publications etc). As Charles Ornstein, president of the Association of Health Care Journalists, commented: “News organizations have traditionally had a bright line between advertising and editorial content. Reporters didn’t know which advertisers would appear alongside their stories, and advertising sales reps didn’t know what stories would appear in the paper. This arrangement preserved the credibility of news organizations and advertisers.”

    2. Transparency is important but not necessarily a solution in itself. Indeed, some people (like Peter Mansfield) have argued that encouraging transparency as a solution may even be counterproductive (the reference here: http://www.australianprescriber.com/magazine/33/5/136/7
    My own view/practice is that sometimes saying “no” is a better option.

    3. You could have a whole other debate about the merits of holding up medical journals as yardsticks. Richard Smith, former editor of the BMJ, and other journal editors have themselves raised questions raised about the role of medical journals in pharma marketing: eg: Medical Journals Are an Extension of the Marketing Arm of Pharmaceutical Companies
    http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0020138

    4. I don’t think there is a perfect way of funding journalism; just about every option has some flaws. But direct advertiser-funding of related journalism is a noteworthy and worrying development – and not only for health journalism. If you saw the comments from The Australian’s editor, a number of these “commercial arrangements” are planned. I will soon post more details about the particular arrangement with Medicines Australia.

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  5. 5
    Melissa Sweet

    Melissa Sweet

    Further to the above, it is worth noting that the medical press (which are largely funded by pharma advertising) do not, as I understand it, generally link print news editorial to specific advertisers.

    Also, it’s worth pointing out that my comments about the media not traditionally linking specific advertisements to editorial apply very much to the traditions of newspapers. It’s likely that online publishing is breaking down some of the demarcation between editorial and advertising – and that online news stories may be linked to specific advertisements.

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