Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

FDA makes the right move, reversing itself and letting reporters speak to sources before embargo lifts

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In January, Embargo Watch reported that the FDA had told reporters they couldn’t speak to outside sources about a medical device approval announcement until the embargo had lifted. I argued that such an approach would turn journalists into stenographers.

The Association of Health Care Journalists board of directors — of which, in full disclosure, I am a member — agreed, and sent a strongly worded letter to the agency in February. Yesterday, the FDA wrote back, laying out the rationale for its policy. The important sentence is here, where it reverses the approach it took in January:

A journalist may share embargoed material provided by the FDA with non-journalists or third parties to obtain quotes or opinions prior to an embargo lift provided that the reporter secures agreement from the third-party to uphold the embargo.

In the letter, the FDA says

it did not have a formal news embargo policy in place.

That may be, but it’s also true that its ad hoc policy, which they have not distanced themselves from until now, was deeply flawed. Also of note: The person who seemed to most often defend that policy, Beth Martino, has now left the agency for a PR position at the American Health Care Association.

Still, for doing the right thing, the FDA has earned a spot on the Embargo Watch Honor Roll. Kudos.


Written by Ivan Oransky

June 14, 2011 at 11:41 am

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