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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is journalism the drug industry’s new dance partner?

Ray Moynihan
By Ray Moynihan, author, journalist, and conjoint lecturer, University of Newcastle, Australia

Exploring the new frontier in influence peddling

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.

The BMJ reported last week that the Murdoch empire’s flagship newspaper in Australia has accepted an undisclosed amount of sponsorship money from the drug industry for a series of articles on health policy—and that the idea arose from a meeting between advertising agents.

Defending the deal, the Australian’s editor said that independence and integrity were maintained; but as others pointed out, this new form of financial closeness between journalists and the companies they scrutinise raises real concerns.

A few years ago the industry body Medicines Australia started sponsoring annual journalism awards, with the prize for the health journalist of the year award including $A1000 cash (£660; €760; $US1060) and an international study tour. Presumably all recipients will swear that the award and the world trip had no undesirable effects on their future coverage, and they may well be right.

What we're witnessing is a slow and subtle attempt to buy influence and goodwill within the media, which in general have become increasingly rigorous in their coverage of the unhealthy aspects of pharmaceutical marketing.

The article can be found here.

Cite this as: BMJ 2011; 343:d6978