On his Health News Review blog, founder and publisher Gary Schwitzer flags one of many examples of all-expenses-paid trips and the ways in which they are used by funders to influence the agenda of science journalists.
In this particular example, German pharma company Bayer, which markets a number of cardiovascular drugs, sponsored a fellowship four-day training program for 20 journalists titled ‘Covering the Heart Beat’ organized by the US National Press Foundation (NPF).
The program was being offered late January at West Palm Beach, Florida (average maximum temperature 23C/74F.)
According to the announcement, “the all-expenses-paid fellowship covers airfare, ground transportation, hotel costs and most meals. NPF offers this professional development opportunity for journalists to enhance skills, increase knowledge and recharge their reporting on one of today’s most critical issues. [..] Support for this training comes from Bayer. NPF retains sole responsibility for programming and content.“
Schwitzer quotes the NSF website saying that “the sponsor(s) will be invited to address the journalists at the start of the program, welcoming them and explaining why they chose to sponsor this program. [..] At the conclusion of the program the sponsor(s) will receive a written evaluation of the program, including ratings and comments from each of the attending journalists.“
The sponsor, in other words, in return for its investment, may see returns in the form of stories on heart disease (and possibly drug treatments). It will for sure build a personal relationship with twenty health care journalists who, following what will probably be a comfortable midwinter get-away, may be more susceptible for their messages than before.
Schwitzer notes that many health care journalists these days will criticize physicians who accept industry money, e.g. through trips, because it may influence their research or drug prescriptions. “It appears that when the shoe is on the other foot, the ethical concerns seem to disappear for some,” he writes.
Here is Schwitzer’s full post.