Media not good pharma watchdogs

The media are not great watchdogs of big pharma it turns out, but pharma companies will likely see a sea change in reporting about drug studies in the future.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported today that the media commonly neglect to mention drug company funding when reporting on medication studies. In addition, journalists most frequently refer to medications using proprietary names rather than generic names, which--while it makes the marketers of the proprietary drugs happy--serves drug company commercial interests more than public interests. Neglecting to mention who paid for a study as well as mentioning brand names influence consumers and the medical community unduly toward commercial interests, according to the JAMA report.

The review looked at 306 news stories written specifically about medication trials that pharmaceutical companies had paid for, but over 40 percent did not mention the source of the funding.

The authors of the study also said that patients could spend $9 billion less each year by taking generic rather than brand name medications, which makes all the more relevant the fact that the majority of the references to drugs in news stories were to the brand name versions. 

The Association of Health Care Journalists has taken a proactive approach to the problem by providing guidelines for journalists to ensure the least amount of bias in news stories. The organization recommends that its members "investigate and report possible links between sources of information and those who promote a new idea or therapy" and "report the complete risks and benefits of any treatment, along with the possible outcomes of alternative approaches."

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