Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

AHCJ wants medical societies to stop conference recording and photography bans

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Feel free to use these at conferences, but don't dare use your camera or recorder. Photo by RogueSun Media via Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/shuttercat7/

If you’ve ever covered a medical meeting, you’ve had some version of the following experience: You’re sitting in a crowded presentation, scribbling as fast as you can in a notebook, or typing into a laptop, as a researcher runs through PowerPoint slides at breakneck speed.

If you’re at most conferences, you’ve got a safety net: Whip out your camera, and take pictures of the slides to check later, or record the presentation so you don’t miss anything. Or do both.

But if you’re covering one of at least four medical societies’ conferences [see update below], neither of those things is an option. That’s because they prohibit recording and photography.

The Association of Health Care Journalists wants those four societies — and any others that have rules that essentially embargo material that’s in full view, if you ask me — to change their policies. (Full disclosure: I’m AHCJ treasurer.) Today, the AHCJ announced that they’d written a letter asking for a change:

“We understand the need to protect copyrights and proprietary information, and to avoid disruption of meetings,” said AHCJ President Charles Ornstein. “But medical groups can achieve those goals without making it so hard for reporters to do their jobs.”

The American Heart Association is cited as a group with rules that work. AHA requires reporters to obtain credentials, ask for permission and sometimes have an escort before they make recordings or videotapes. These more reasonable restrictions still allow reporters to get what they need to report fully and accurately. (See the AHA guidelines.)

“AHCJ members just want to get it right,” said Felice J. Freyer, chairwoman of the AHCJ’s Right-to-Know Committee. “I don’t see how any medical group could object to that.”

The issue has come up before. Longtime freelance medical reporter Norman Bauman described it in 2007. In 2008, another medical conference veteran, Bob Finn, ranted about policies at the American Diabetes Association and the European League Against Rheumatism.

Today, Bob wrote after I requested a comment: “I think it’s terrific that AHCJ is taking this stand. As a [National Association of Science Writers] board member, I’m going to urge NASW to write a similar letter.”

Last year, MedPage Today CEO Robert Stern called attention to the practice, pegging it to competition for lucrative continuing medical education (CME) business between medical societies and organizations like his.

I asked Bob for a comment, and he responded by email:

Our issue at Medpage Today has always been access.

Whether the access involves the ability to take pictures, video or audio without a chaperone, or if it means access to full press credentials.

As I pointed out in my editorial much of what these societies present at their meetings are in the public domain paid for by taxpayer dollars and left unchallenged gives the societies unqualified ownership.

I’ll of course report any responses from the medical societies.

Updated March 18, 2010, 6:05 p.m. Eastern, with comments from Bob Finn.

Updated March 26, 2010, 12:15 p.m. Eastern: AHCJ’s Covering Health blog posted this at the top of its item on this issue. I will update as I learn more: IMPORTANT NOTICE (3/25/10): Since AHCJ’s statement was issued, it has come to our attention that not all groups mentioned in this release have outright bans on recording or photography at their conferences. We are currently researching the issue and will post additional information on our site when it becomes available.


Written by Ivan Oransky

March 18, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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