Further to recent discussions about the sponsorship deal between Medicines Australia and The Australian, journalist Ray Moynihan has a column examining some of the related issues in the BMJ, Is journalism the drug industry’s new dance partner?
The column begins:
Just as many doctors contemplate an end to their dance with drug company marketers, a fresh new crew is stepping lively onto the floor: journalists and media organisations looking for easy ways to fund their reporting, travel, and education.
Moynihan cites a 2008 paper (abstract free) that he co-authored with researchers from the Center for Medicine and the Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in New Hampshire, Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin.
This paper argues that industry sponsorship of journalism training and education is occurring in a variety of contexts—universities, conferences, and professional associations—raising similar concerns to those that apply to education of doctors.
Examples given include:
• The University of North Carolina’s master’s degree in medical journalism has at least two important forms of financial relations with drug companies. Its post of Glaxo Wellcome distinguished professor of medical journalism is an endowed position created by a grant from the company, while Pfizer offers a medical journalism scholarship at the university that aims “to improve the breadth and quality of reporting of health and medical issues in minority or disadvantaged communities”.
• The American Medical Writers Association, whose members include reporters and public relations specialists, receives sponsorship from the drug industry.
• At a large conference of ethnic minority journalists in 2008, a well attended lunch focusing on diabetes was sponsored by the maker of a diabetes treatment, which selected the speakers and set the agenda.
• Examples of sponsored journalism awards include the Eli Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim award for “reporting on urinary incontinence,” while Boehringer also has an award for reporting on “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” Eli Lilly one for reporting on oncology, and Roche one for “obesity journalism,”.
The article makes suggestions for disentangling financial ties between medical journalists and healthcare industries, and concludes:
As researchers and writers acting to improve medical journalism, we encourage journalists, educators, and professional associations to scrutinise their own relations with the industry as intensely as they do those between doctors and drug companies and to develop workable solutions. And, if they are to be good watchdogs, journalists need to mark their territory and clearly establish boundaries between themselves and the industry to avoid unhealthy entanglements.
• Meanwhile, the next Croakey post comes from Medicines Australia…
For recent related articles:
• Meanwhile, this post from last year has some other relevant background regarding media and medical conflicts of interest.