Journalist Lisa Collier Cool was “truly appalled” to receive an email that offered her a $250 stipend if she would attend a “Facial Aesthetics Advisory Panel” hosted by Allergen – makers of Botox, Juvederm and Latisse.
The PR pro, of Chandler Chicco Companies, a health care public relations firm, wrote:
The goal of this Panel is to engage in a discussion about current facial aesthetics trends and innovations, perceived gaps in data, and any questions, concerns or misperceptions your readers may have about products and treatments. Allergan will provide an overview of the evolution of the facial aesthetics marketplace and then will open the panel for discussion.
As a seasoned reporter in this space, we would greatly value your feedback, and we’d like to offer you a stipend of $250 for your attendance and insights.
Cool, who brought the email to AHCJ’s attention, said she considers this “an all-time low in drug company promotion to the media” and that this is the first time she’s received such an offer in more than 25 years of health reporting.
AHCJ’s Vice President, Karl Stark, said AHCJ’s board of directors was alarmed by the offer.
“We report all the time on the potential conflicts of interest that money creates between drug companies and doctors,” said Stark, a Philadelphia Inquirer editor. “How would this be any different?”
Cool agreed, saying she is “shocked that along with questionable payments to doctors, the pharmaceutical industry – or at least Allergan – is now stooping to offering fees to reporters, presumably in the hope of securing favorable press coverage for its products. I view this as a thinly disguised attempt at bribery and hope that this practice won’t become widespread.”
Certainly accepting such money would violate common ethical guidelines for journalists. For example, AHCJ’s Statement of Principles includes the advice to:
- Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
- 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.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics advises journalists to:
- Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
- Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
“Assisting medical companies with their public relations efforts is not the role of journalists,” Stark said.
AHCJ has contacted the representative who sent the email for details on this arrangement, including whether other reporters have taken her up on the offer, if any reporters have raised questions about it and whether this is an approach she or her company has used in the past. We will update this post if we get a response. [Update: PR rep says journalists’ stipend to attend Allergan event was misconstrued]
Meanwhile, Forbes’ Matthew Herper contacted Allergan and posted its response.