Views of health journalists, industry employees and news consumers about disclosure and regulation of industry-journalist relationships: An empirical ethical study

05 January 2015

Bioethicists and policymakers are increasingly concerned about the effects on health journalism of relationships between journalists and private corporations. The concern is that relationships between journalists and manufacturers of medicines, medical devices, complementary medicines, and food can and do distort health reporting. This is a problem because health news is known to have a major impact on the public’s health-related expectations and behaviour. Commentators have proposed two related approaches to protecting the public from potential harms arising from industry-journalist interactions: greater transparency and external regulation. To date, few empirical studies have examined stakeholders’ views of industry-journalist relationships and how these should be managed. We conducted interviews with 13 journalists and 12 industry employees, and two focus groups with consumers. Our findings, which are synthesised here, provide empirical support for the need for greater transparency and regulation of industry-journalist relationships. Our findings also highlight several likely barriers to instituting such measures, which will need to be overcome if transparency and regulation are to be accepted by stakeholder and have their intended effect on both the quality of journalism and the actions of news consumers.