Christopher Weaver, in a piece from Kaiser Health News and NPR, writes about a Pfizer-funded seminar for journalists. To attend the annual seminar about cancer, hosted by the National Press Foundation, 15 journalists get an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C.
Foundation president Bob Myers says the pharmaceutical company does not have input on the meeting and an attendee of last year’s meeting, AHCJ member Joy Robertson, says she doesn’t remember Pfizer ever being mentioned at the event.
Commenters on the KHN/NPR include AHCJ members Ornstein; Andrew Holtz, M.P.H. (also a board member); Elaine Schattner, M.D.; and Schwitzer. Schattner, a licensed, non-practicing physician and medical educator, says “This is precisely how Pfizer and other companies try to influence physicians who, in their sometimes-arrogance, tend to think they’re “above” subtle persuasion. Are journalists any better?”
Journalist Merrill Goozner also has written about the seminar and says that that Pfizer has dictated the overall agenda:
Pfizer didn’t make an unrestricted grant to a journalism training organization. The money is being spent to train journalists in how to cover cancer.
Goozner points out, as does Holtz in his comment on the NPR/KHN piece, that “journalism spends less on training than almost any other profession” and that journalists have few opportunities to get out of the newsroom for professional education.
Covering Health wrote about this seminar and this issue last year. It’s worth noting, as we did then, that the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism seek to minimize the possibility and appearance of inappropriate influence from outside parties. Pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and medical device makers are examples of organizations with with AHCJ will not partner. Read AHCJ’s complete fundraising policies.
AHCJ’s Statement of Principles, which identifies challenges that health care reporters face and suggests how to meet those challenges, addresses the topic:
- Refuse gifts, favors, and special treatment. Refuse meals from drug companies and device manufacturers and refuse to accept unsolicited product samples sent in the mail.
- Weigh the potential benefits involved in accepting fees, honoraria, free travel, paid expenses from organizers of conferences or events against the desire to preserve our credibility with the audience and the need to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
- Also weigh the potential benefits of accepting awards from organizations sponsored by an entity with a vested interest in health care against our need for credibility.
- Weigh the potential conflict in accepting support from public, private, or foundation sources.