Is FDA Handing Out Gag Orders to Journalists Now?March 15, 2011
The current FDA administration is blocking reporters from sharing agency pre-publication releases with experts to obtain outside comment. Help us protect medical freedom of speech!
Many prominent organizations and agencies like FDA release information with an embargo on it. In other words, news organizations will agree not to publish this information until a certain date. This gives the journalists time to research and write their articles, so that their more detailed investigation—often a deeper perspective on a complex story—can appear at the same time as the organization’s press conference.
The journalists customarily share the information with other experts in the field to get a more impartial perspective. These experts are are always apprised of the embargo, must agree to its terms, and fall under the same confidentiality agreement as the media organization.
A few weeks ago, as the FDA was about to unveil a new approval process for medical devices, the agency stated that news organizations must not “call around and get comment ahead of [time]. Needless to say, that would break the embargo.” This is completely contrary to established industry practice. As the blog Embargo Watch recently stated, “Without that, journalists become stenographers. If that’s what the FDA—a public agency—wants, they need to rethink. And if they insist that this is what they mean by a journalistic embargo, then I’d suggest reporters stop agreeing to them. There’s really no benefit to reporters or the public, only to the FDA.”
In response to the FDA’s statement, the nonprofit Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ)—the nation’s largest group of health reporters—sent a strongly worded letter to the FDA, objecting to the administration’s “highly unusual” new policy: “[This] restriction…rewrote a longstanding compact between reporters and various public and scientific organizations. It also hampered or delayed reporters’ ability to fully inform the public about what the FDA is doing with taxpayers’ money.”
The group continued, “Reporters who want to be competitive on a story will essentially have to agree to write only what the FDA wants to tell the world, without analysis or outside commentary.”
As an example of what the FDA is trying to accomplish with this outrageous new policy, take a look at this in-depth article published the day the aforementioned medical device approval announcement was made: a major policy change with potentially huge safety ramifications was covered in seventy-seven little words. Dull, absurdly brief, and decidedly uncontroversial—exactly what the FDA wanted.
Please send your message to the FDA, and ask the agency drop its embargo policy! We must make sure that the FDA allows expert review of its decisions and documents released on an embargoed basis, consistent with customary practices in the media industry. Please take action now!
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