Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Medscape and theheart.org get harsh sanctions for European Society of Cardiology embargo break

with 4 comments

The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) has levied tough sanctions against theheart.org and its sister company, Medscape, for posting results of a trial a hours before the embargo was scheduled to lift. An email sent out by the ESC to its press list earlier today:


The embargo on the TRILOGY ACS (TRILOGY-ACS: Prasugrel versus clopidodrel for patients with Unstable Angina/NSTEMI who are medically managed without revascularization) trial was broken today by Medscape Medical News.

According to article 5. of the ESC Media Policy, breaking of the embargo by a reporter leads to:

5. Breaking of the embargo policy by a reporter leads to:
• Immediate suspension of the reporter’s media credentials
• Immediate barring of the reporter from the meeting premises
• Removal of the reporter’s name from the ESC Press distribution list for 1 year
• No access as a media representative to the following year’s ESC Congress
• No access as a media representative to any other congresses organized by the ESC for 1 year
• Media outlets that employ the reporter or who hired the freelancer to write for them will be barred
from accessing next year’s ESC Congress and from sending reporters to any other ESC organised congress for 1 year.

The ESC Press Office will enforce the media policy: Medscape Medical News reporters present at the ESC Congress 2012 have been asked to hand in their badges and leave the premises. All of the above will also applied.

European Society of Cardiology

theheart.org’s story on TRILOGY posted on Medscape sometime very early this morning Munich time, several hours before the 8 a.m. Central European Time embargo. The ESC’s email about sanctions went out several hours later.

Meanwhile, Duke’s Magnus Ohman, speaking at the TRILOGY press conference, said that Forbes had broken the embargo on this story, because CardioBrief also runs there and had posted a story about the trial upon learning the embargo had lifted. But the ESC president corrected the record at the end of the press conference.

Shelley Wood, one of the two theheart.org staffers asked to leave the ESC meeting, tells Embargo Watch that the break happened because of an accidental error at Medscape — full disclosure, Medscape is a client of Reuters Health, which I run — and that the sanctions were therefore a bit broad:

theheart.org is a professional news website owned by WebMD, which also owns Medscape.com, the news site that broke embargo when it accidentally published a syndicated news story from theheart.org‘s heartwire news team before embargo lift. theheart.org did not break the embargo, yet two of its journalists were held accountable for the Medscape embargo break, an accidental publication arising from the time difference between New York and Munich.  In the age of media conglomerations and syndication, it’s unfortunate that respected journalists for one organization can be scapegoated for the mistakes of another news organization that happen to be owned by the same parent company. It’s also a sad comment on the state of medical journalism today that competing news organizations who are intimately acquainted with the complexities of corporate media ownership and the distinctions between publications, would find such Schadenfreude–in Munich no less!–in the troubles faced by fellow journalists, rather than speak out in support of colleagues unjustly implicated in a publishing error unrelated to their own publication.

Speaking of theheart.org’s competitors, major cardiology meetings have been the site of at least three recent breaks. MedPageToday broke an American College of Cardiology embargo in April of last year, and Reuters broke one at the American Heart Association in February 2010. Both news organizations faced sanctions, although not as harsh as those the ESC is meting out.


Written by Ivan Oransky

August 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. These are very harsh sanctions. And a total overreaction by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) I wonder if the same sanctiions would have been handed out to the New York Times or Dr. Nancy Snyderman of NBC TV. Nope because they have too much clout and go on TV and talk about them.

    David Levine

    August 26, 2012 at 5:10 pm

  2. No chance that Nancy Snyderman breaks this embargo- you have to actually understand the story to report it too early


    August 26, 2012 at 5:17 pm

  3. Wow. I always thought the point of punishing embargo breaks was to serve as a deterrent, not as a punitive measure. This harms people at random and opens a real Pandora’s box, should other groups adopt this kind of policy.

    Brian Reid (@brianreid)

    August 27, 2012 at 10:52 am

  4. There are ways to get around a press release ban and a ban on attending “meetings.” It’s called actual reporting. Get some sources.


    August 30, 2012 at 8:06 am

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