The financial ties between drug companies and journalists are scrutinised in the latest British Medical Journal by American medical academics Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin, and Australian journalist Ray Moynihan.

The authors suggest that journalism educators should not accept funding from the healthcare and drug industries, that journalists should not accept gifts, awards, or any financial support from the industries they cover, and that journalists should routinely disclose their conflicts of interest and those of their sources.

From where I sit, many of these issues have been raised before. Unfortunately, as a profession we’ve been slow to acknowledge or act on such concerns – as evidenced by the fact that so many journalists continue to enter, for example, the National Press Club award for health reporting funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

What do others think? Here’s a comment from longstanding medical reporter Rada Rouse, who has been active within the Australian Medical Writers Association for many years.

So, is “entanglement” with the drug industry now supposed to be as bad for journalism as “embedding” with the military?

Lisa M Schwartz et al raise some interesting issues in their article on Medicine and the Media.If two-thirds of charities and patients’ groups get funding from drug or device manufacturers, journalists may soon run out of “unbiased” options to turn to for quotes!

Are we to eschew comments from the peak patient advocacy or doctor educator groups because they accept grants from industry?

And is this because we think the talent is corrupted by their association or simply because we think that drug company money is dirty money?

One always hopes that good journalism will triumph over pharmaceutical company spin.
I have faith in the ability of specialist medical journalists to accept an overseas trip and report on a conference in an unbiased way. It’s what we do.

The issue of awards is a bit more murky. As a former executive member of the Australasian Medical Writers Association (AMWA) for more than ten years I have always pressed for full disclosure with regard to funding of awards if AMWA promotes them to members through the website .

And I would tend to query the integrity of an award where the funder is also a judge.

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