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Medical journal's reporting commitment serves as an example for others


Fred Brown, SPJ Ethics Committee Co-Chair, 303/755-0395 or ethicalfred@aol.com
Gary Hill, SPJ Ethics Committee Chair, 651-642-4437 or ghill@kstp.com
Al Cross, SPJ President, 502/875-5136 ext. 14 or across@courier-journal.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Society of Professional Journalists commends the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) for its continued commitment to accuracy and full disclosure in the eminently newsworthy arena of medical studies.

In its June 5 issue, JAMA revisits the ethically charged area of peer review of medical studies, devoting the entire issue to the subject. The journal's editor, Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, explained that the issue "is our attempt to police ourselves, to question ourselves and to look at better ways to make sure that we're honest and straightforward and maintain the integrity of the journals."

"It is gratifying to see JAMA's courage and honesty in turning the microscope on its own profession, and particularly in its pointing out that conflicts can arise when drug studies are funded by the drug industry, a powerful influence in the medical community," said Fred Brown, a co-chair of SPJ’s Ethics Committee and former political editor at The Denver Post. "Integrity is imperative in any truth-seeking endeavor," Brown said. "That includes journalism as well as medicine."

SPJ, the nation's oldest, largest and broadest journalism organization, puts heavy emphasis on ethics in its efforts to promote responsible journalism. Its Code of Ethics, first adopted in 1926 and most recently revised in 1996, urges journalists to "be accountable" and to call attention to unethical practices in journalism. That includes specialized journals such as JAMA.

"Our code calls on us to `Clarify and explain news coverage,"' said Gary Hill, SPJ's ethics chair and director of investigations at KSTP-TV in the Twin Cities. "I think that is what JAMA did in this case. It can only enhance their credibility that they freely expose and examine their own shortcomings."

SPJ recognizes that this is a longstanding concern of JAMA. In a 1986 editorial announcing the AMA's first peer-review congress, Dr. Drummond Rennie, JAMA's deputy editor, cited "the appalling standards" for studies that meant "there are scarcely any bars to eventual publication." The journal now requires its authors to reveal any financial interests they have in subjects they write about, disclose who paid for studies that are subjects of their reports, and specify which authors of multiple-byline pieces conducted which parts of a study.

"Such safeguards are especially important for journals that deal with life-and-death matters and are supported in large part by manufacturers of drugs and medical equipment," said SPJ President Al Cross, a political writer and columnist for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. "Journalists for the mainstream and specialty publications would do well to follow JAMA’s example. Reporters and editors should ensure that their own reporting recognizes the problem areas the medical journal cites, such as sources of funding, adequacy of peer review, exaggerations, misleading results and plain old inaccuracies."

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


Julie F. Grimes, SPJ Deputy Director
Society of Professional Journalists
3909 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46208-4045
317/927-8000 ext. 216

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