Safety Information Sold Separately

Pharmaceutical company dodges federal regulations through fake TV news

Submitted by Daniel Price on
Clients: Stiefel Laboratories
Release Date: December 2005
Aired By: 3 stations
Disclosed By: No stations

Since 1997, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed pharmaceutical companies to advertise their products on television. But in exchange, the FDA requires their commercials to include "fair balance," important safety information about possible adverse reactions and medical conflicts (also known as contraindications).

While the FDA also requires pharmaceutical video news releases (VNRs) to provide fair balance, TV stations aren't held to the same requirements in their news reports. As a result, the drug giants rely on ethically-challenged newsrooms to not just deliver their product's selling points through undislosed VNRs, but to edit out the safety warnings that might dissuade viewers from considering their new remedy.

On December 19, 2005, WYTV-33 (Youngstown, OH) ran an 80-second news feature on MimyX, a prescription skin cream that was recently approved by the FDA to treat atopic dermatitis, more commonly known as eczema. In addition to several product shots of MimyX, the story included glowing testimony from Dr. Joseph Fowler, a clinical professor at the University of Louisville and a practicing dermatologist.

WYTV's viewers were denied two crucial pieces of information. The first is that the entire story was lifted straight from a VNR created by MultiVu on behalf of Stiefel Laboratories, the makers of MimyX. To erase the dotted line between the station and the story's corporate source, producers added WYTV-branded text overlays and enlisted their own health reporter, Len Rome, to introduce and narrate the piece as if he had investigated it himself.

Secondly, the original MultiVu package included thirty seconds of federally-mandated contraindication warnings at the very end. WYTV's audience never got to see or hear this information, since it was omitted from Rome's report. Remarkably, the aired story was even less balanced than the VNR it came from.

The MimyX news release also found its way onto two other ABC stations: WCPO-9 (Cincinnati, OH) and WSYR-9 (Syracuse, NY), a station the Center For Media and Democracy had previously observed airing a covert VNR on arthritis supplements.

Like WYTV-33, both stations disguised the VNR as their own investigative report, and both stations failed to include the contraindication warnings that came with the original VNR.

Watch video of the VNR, the contraindication warnings, and the WYTV and WCPO newscasts, below.

Original MimyX VNR MimyX contraindication info
Created by MultiVu
Voiced by publicist Included at end of VNR
WYTV-33 11:30PM newscast WCPO-9 5PM newscast
December 19, 2005 December 14, 2005
Omits contraindication info Omits contraindication info