Annual Press Audit: Front Page Pharma - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Annual Press Audit: Front Page Pharma


Pharmaceutical Executive


Headlines were more likely to be neutral. Last year only about one-quarter of headlines were neutral, while 57 percent were negative and 18 percent were positive. This year, there were fewer positive headlines (9 percent) and fewer negative (44 percent), while the neutral headlines nearly doubled to 47 percent. (See "Which Side Are You On?" above.)

The articles were more negative (and positive) than the headlines. This was the case last year, as well. Compared with the headline analysis, the full-text articles yielded more positives, more negatives, and fewer neutrals. The headlines were more neutral toward the industry—mostly because they were more general. Although the percentage of favorable articles was greater than the percentage of favorable headlines (19.2 percent compared with 9.2 percent), the same relationship held true with articles critical of the industry (where 43.9 percent of the headlines were negative and 60.1 percent of the articles).

The front page was just as negative as the editorial page. It might be reasonable to expect that the editorial page would have a higher percentage of both positive and negative articles, because that's the part of the newspaper devoted to opinions. In fact, though, the percentage of negative stories was the same on the front page and the editorial page: 60 percent. There were more positive stories on the editorial page (23 percent compared with 15 on the front page) and more neutral articles on the front page (25 percent compared with 17 percent on the editorial page).

Does that show that news stories are biased? Possibly, but it also reflects a reality of the news business and the way reporters regard "news hooks": When a story like Vioxx breaks, additional sources will emerge to add their accusations—in the case of Vioxx, that the company knew about the problems with the product, that it covered up its knowledge, that it had concealed data, that it had falsified a journal article, and so forth. Each new accusation tends to be treated as a separate, newsworthy event. And each of those stories will tend to register as negative.

The coverage was more balanced this year than last. Although most headlines and articles did not support the positions of the industry, the coverage did acknowledge pharma's point of view in 83 percent of the articles. This figure increased from last year when 78 percent of the articles mentioned both sides of the disputed issue.

PhRMA Issues

The other chart on page 58, "Consolidation of Issues on PhRMA Web site," shows how this year's audit compared with the issues highlighted on the PhRMA site in December 2005. Similar to last year, several of the issues identified by the audit were not included in PhRMA's list. For example, three of the top five issues in the audit—drug safety, data disclosure, and marketing and sales incentives used by pharma—were not part of the PhRMA list. Other topics that received significant newspaper coverage but did not appear on PhRMA's list were developing countries (for example, efforts to provide access to patients in developing countries), new drug treatment/research, and issues related to vaccines (for example, bird flu and shortages of vaccines).

On the positive side of the ledger, PhRMA's list included drug prices, issues related to clinical study design (under R&D), reimportation, and DTC advertising. These four issues were discussed in 39 percent of the articles in the audit. This represents significant overlap between the issues PhRMA identified and those that were uncovered in the audit. The glaring omission to PhRMA's list is drug safety, which was discussed in more than 42 percent of the articles. Other issues identified by PhRMA—such as Medicare, Medicaid, and the courts—were covered by the newspapers, but in most cases, the articles mentioning them were categorized by our researchers in other areas, such as drug pricing.

Implications for Pharma and PhRMA

Again this year, findings of this study have several key implications for the pharmaceutical industry and for PhRMA. Press coverage both follows and leads public sentiment. It identifies issues that have emerged in the recent past—but it also helps shape how people think about issues moving forward. With that in mind, here are some areas for pharmaceutical companies to consider, based on this year's coverage:


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