Annual Press Audit: Front Page Pharma - Pharmaceutical Executive


Annual Press Audit: Front Page Pharma

Pharmaceutical Executive

The top ethical issues covered by the press included safety, drug prices, and the issues surrounding clinical trials (right). The issues flagged as important on PhRMA´s Web site anticipated many of the most-covered issues, but not all. The biggest omission: the topic of the year, safety.
The audit covers the period October 1, 2004, through September 30, 2005. To be included in the study, an article had to (a) focus on an ethical or legal issue facing the pharma industry and (b) appear either on the front page or on the editorial or op-ed pages—an indication of major news and public sentiment. (Letters to the editor were not counted as editorial-page articles.) Clearly, media scrutiny of the industry has increased since last year. We selected and analyzed a total of 271 articles, more than double last year's total of 105.

Once the pool of articles was established, the team examined four factors:

Issues discussed For each article, we identified and categorized the relevant legal and ethical issues discussed. Fifty articles covered two or more issues and were counted under all relevant categories. [REFER]

Headline We categorized each headline as positive, negative, or neutral toward the industry. For example, "Despite Vow, Drug Makers Still Withhold Data" (New York Times, May 31, 2005, page A1) was clearly classified as a negative headline, while "Drug Ads Let Patients Participate in Care" (USA Today, June 15, 2005, page 10A) was labeled positive.

Story body We also analyzed each complete article to determine whether it took a positive, negative, or neutral position toward the pharmaceutical industry. For example, any article that called for restrictions or a prohibition on DTC advertising—a position that the industry opposes—was deemed negative. In contrast, an article claiming that DTC advertising resulted in more informed patients was designated as positive, given the industry's stance on the issue.

Balance Regardless of the dominant position taken by the article, we also looked to see if the articles included the opposing point of view. When an explicit statement about an opposing view was included in the article—even if the two sides did not receive equal coverage—we concluded that the article covered both sides. When no mention of the opposing view was presented, the article was labeled as one-sided.

Hot Button Issues

The chart on page 58, "Frequency Analysis of Ethical Issues," shows which topics the articles covered, and how many articles were devoted to each topic. The results are striking in that 114 articles focused on drug safety, an issue that hardly registered on the radar screen last year. This finding reflects the Vioxx (rofecoxib) and related stories that dominated the headlines and newspaper coverage in 2005. (The word "Vioxx" appeared in 25 headlines.) High drug prices and concerns about differential pricing, the runaway number-one issue last year, was a distant second this year with 54 articles. Disclosure of clinical-trial data and manufacturing processes was a hot topic this year and last, ranking second in frequency last year and fourth this year. Importation/reimportation of drugs from Canada and other countries dropped from third on the list last year to sixth this year. Clinical study design and sponsorship concerns and marketing and sales incentives to healthcare providers moved into the top five list this year, coming in third and fifth place, respectively.

As for the slant of the articles, several important points emerged as we compared this year's results with last year's:


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