Fifth Annual Press Audit: Safety in the Spotlight - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Fifth Annual Press Audit: Safety in the Spotlight


Pharmaceutical Executive


Headlines We analyzed headlines and categorized them as positive, negative, or neutral toward the industry. For example, "Costly Drugs, Unfair Burdens" (New York Times, April 20, 2008) was classified as a negative headline, while "A Shot at Stopping AIDS" (Washington Post, December 18, 2007) was labeled positive.

Tone We analyzed each article to determine whether it took a positive, negative, or neutral position toward the pharmaceutical industry. For example, an article that called for restrictions or a prohibition on direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising—a position that the industry opposes—was deemed negative. In contrast, an article that claimed that DTC advertising resulted in more informed patients was designated as positive.


Trends in Media Coverage
Balance Regardless of the dominant position in a news article or editorial, we looked to see if stories included opposing points of view. When an explicit statement about an opposing viewpoint 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 one-sided.

What Are the Hot Button Issues?

"Running the Numbers on Newspapers" (left) shows the number of articles published in 2008 compared with 2007. The overall results indicate that the amount of coverage the pharma industry received remained about the same from 2007 to 2008 (150 articles versus 147). Rather, the more apparent change is the difference in coverage rates in the two-year period of 2007–2008 compared with 2005–2006; in 2007–2008, newspaper coverage declined 45 percent.


Newspapers Grow More Negative Toward Industry
"Hot Button Issues" (right) identifies the topics media covered and their frequency, and compares those numbers to previous years. For the past five years, drug safety has been the top magnet for coverage. In 2008, the focus on drug safety intensified even more. More than half of all articles on the industry addressed the issue of drug safety. Most of those articles were critical of the industry and/or a specific company or brand.

The focus on FDA and regulatory affairs, a related issue, also continued to grow, and moved into second place on the list, surpassing the emphasis on drug prices for the first time in the five-year period of the study. Biotech also emerged as a strong focus in 2008, moving from unranked to fifth on the list.

Further down the list were three pricing related issues: high drug prices, importation/reimportation of drugs, and differential pricing and distribution. Comparing the bookend years of the study—2004 vs. 2008—you can see how the focus on high drug prices has waned. (See "Trends in Media Coverage," right.) High drug prices were emphasized in one-third of all articles in 2004, but in only 17.3 percent of articles in 2008—a decline of 92 percent. Similarly, importation or reimportation of drugs to the US was a clarion call in 2004, but hardly warranted a whisper in 2008. The emphasis on data disclosure in clinical trials and manufacturing also dropped precipitously, appearing in 26.7 percent of articles in 2004, but only 9.3 percent in 2008.


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