Thursday, August 26, 2010

Health Journos: Heal Thyselves

NEW YORK - APRIL 17:  (FILE PHOTO) Pedestrians...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeLogo of Pfizer Incorporated.Image via WikipediaFifteen journalists are Washington, D.C.-bound this October to attend a National Press Foundation-sponsored  four-day seminar concerning the latest research and developments in treatment of various forms of cancer, including breast, prostate and cervical, according to Shots, a National Public Radio blog.

Nothing wrong with journalists staying abreast of the latest scientific research.  The problem is the bill for the all-expenses paid seminar is being footed by Groton, Connecticut-based pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Inc., everyone's favorite Lipitor and Viagra dispenser, but also the payer of  $2.3 billion in 2009 to settle civil and criminal allegations that it illegally marketed the since-withdrawn pain-killer Bextra, the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history.

Pfizer claims its aim in providing a grant for the seminar is to improve press coverage about cancer, and that no prid quo pro is expected from attendees. The National Press Foundation (NPF) chooses the speakers for the seminar, who are not paid to address the scribes, though Pfizer is given the floor at the opening of the seminar to discuss why it is sponsoring the program. Still, the NPF insists the seminar presentation will be fair and balanced.

The ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists wags fingers at journalists who accept free travel and perks.  On the other hand, in this era of skeleton editorial staffs, sagging circulation and diminished advertising, newsroom budgets provide little in the way of continuing education for reporters.

The seminar, then, is a classic case of situational ethics in the face of a potential conflict of interest.  If journalists attending the event feel a conflict and experience discomfort that lasts for four hours or more, they should contact their media ethics professors or "TUOL."

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1 comment:

  1. For more information on this year’s NPF cancer program, and resources from last year’s event, visit