Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Update on Financial Times tenofovir microbicide anti-HIV gel embargo break

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The International AIDS Conference organizers have issued a statement on Monday’s story in the Financial Times about a study being presented at the conference and published in Science on a tenofovir-based microbicide gel designed to prevent HIV:

To date, the International AIDS Conference has operated in a spirit of trust, with an understanding of the ethical obligations of journalists with respect to the conference’s abstract and media embargo policy. We were therefore disappointed by the actions of the Financial Times, which went against the spirit of the conference embargo policy by publishing a story on the CAPRISA trial results in advance of the 13:00 CET, 20 July embargo.

This action was disrepectful to the other journalists who honored the policy, the researchers and the trial participants themselves.

The conference secretariat will be reviewing our policy as a consequence and is also considering what additional steps it will take to ensure adherence to the embargo policy in the future. At a minimum, the secretariat will lodge a formal complaint with the newspaper group in question. We will also consult with researchers involved in the CAPRISA trial as to whether any further action should be taken.

We wish to thank the other members of the media who respected the International AIDS Conference’s embargo policy. We hope we can count on your continued support of this policy in the future.

Update, 9:30 a.m. Eastern, 7/20/10: The statement prompted André Picard, of The Globe and Mail, to respond:

As health journalists we should be outraged by the flagrant and deliberate violation of the embargo policies of both Science and the AIDS Conference.

The microbicides [study] was big and [many] publications were ‘scooped’ by a cheat. The response from the IAS is wholly unsatisfactory and detrimental to our work. If there are no consequences for violating an embargo, then there is effectively no embargo. It’s a free-for-all. And the coverage of future conferences will suffer as a result.

In my view, the credentials of the Financial Times should have been removed immediately, and their journalists banned [from] future AIDS conferences.

CROI – the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections – imposes a lifetime ban on anyone who violates their embargo policy. It’s the only way to maintain the integrity of their policy.

The IAS says the actions of the FT were disrespectful. But the response of the IAS are equally disrespectful of journalists, if not more so.

Here’s a response from the FT’s Andrew Jack. Also see a detailed comment from AAAS/Science’s Ginger Pinholster with a significant update, as well as a post about the IAS’ “freely available but embargoed” policy.

Hat tip to Kristen Hallam of Bloomberg News, who retyped the statement and posted it on the Association of Health Care Journalists listserv, which I moderate. André‘s comment was also posted to the listserv, and I’m publishing it with his permission.

Written by Ivan Oransky

July 21, 2010 at 8:06 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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