Posted by Diane Farsetta on March 13, 2007

As a result of "hospitals' desperate need to compete for lucrative lines of business" and "TV's hunger for cheap and easy stories," healthcare companies are increasingly getting into the (fake) news business. Sometimes "the hospitals pay for airtime"; sometimes "they don't but still provide expertise and story ideas" -- or prepackaged video news releases. "Viewers who think they are getting news are really getting a form of advertising," reports Trudy Lieberman. One healthcare company, Cleveland Clinic, "sends out prepackaged stories" every day, including to "Fox News Edge, a service for Fox affiliates that in turn distributes the pieces to 140 Fox stations." And, "since TV news operations are finding that they can get this kind of health 'news' supplied to them -- and might even make money on the deal -- they are tempted not to invest in a legitimate health reporter who would ask harder questions and look at the larger picture." Not surprisingly, Lieberman finds that "too often the full nature of the arrangements is not disclosed, or inadequately disclosed."

Comments

I don't understand why you are so angry. I get news about medical advancements in the newspaper also. I imagine the newspaper got their information about the medical advancement from a press release from a pr person, right? Isn't a vnr only a video version of a press release?

I think the viewer/reader has the capability to determine the validity of the medical information. She or he will only go to their doctor to ask whether the doctor thinks this is good for their situation. Right?

So what is the problem?
Mary Elizabeth Mahoney

The doctor may or may not know, or in most cases would probably only venture a guess. But that's beside the point. As journalists, the broadcaster's responsibility isn't to sell medical care, any more than it's a reporter's job to hawk cars or hamburgers. THey're trusted to give us as complete a picture of the subject as they can.

They're supposed to be the go-between, giving us a well-investigated report on the subject including interviews with opposing voices and so on. That's why news outlets pay people (or at least USED to) to investigate and interview and ask probing questions and otherwise dig for information.

Let's put it this way: If you have the time and the cash to do your own investigative work to determine whether or not the medical procedures you're deciding on are safe, then I'd say don't let the gurneys hit you on your way through the hospital. But I think news outlets put themselves in a position to be held to a higher standard.

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