Are drug companies trying to influence health journalists?

The pharmaceutical industry has been vilified by its close association with physicians.

With reforms having distanced these two groups, it appears they are moving onto trying to influence reporters. As journalist professor Gary Schwitzer writes in a recent blog entry, Pfizer is offering journalism fellowships on cancer issues.

The program, not unlike Pharma-sponsored CME for doctors, includes an all-expense paid trip for the 4-day seminar.

Professor Schwitzer has a problem with the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) promoting the fellowship, and indeed, “If taking free airfare, lodging and meals from a drug company whose work you cover isn’t at least a perceived conflict of interest, I don’t know what it is. And I don’t think SPJ should promote events in its own newsletter that, in my reading, invites journalists to violate the SPJ code.”

There is now tremendous pressure for doctors to refuse drug company gifts. Health journalists, who can perhaps influence the public to a greater degree through the tone of their reporting, should similarly shun any pharmaceutical influence.

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