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Medicine And The Media

Embargoes, boring but beneficial

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 03 August 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:307
  1. Richard Smith

    Most BMJ readers probably associate the word “embargo” with its traditional meaning of “an order of government prohibiting the movement of merchant vessels from or into its ports.” But within the murky world where medical journals meet the mass media “embargo” means the block that journals put on their material being used by the mass media until a particular time. For years both the BMJ and the Lancet have embargoed their material until 00.01 on Friday mornings. Editors believe that this system benefits doctors, patients, the public, journalists, and the journals themselves, but the system is becoming to crack. Last week the BMJs embargo was breached (p 305), and there have been several examples in recent months of the embargos of medical journals being breached.

    The BMJs first commitment is to doctors and their patients. Many doctors would prefer that information reached them before it reached the mass media—so that they were prepared for any rush or scare that the stories in the mass media might provoke. Sadly, this is unachievable while journals are distributed in paper form through the post, because the electronic media can break a story in minutes. Without a fair embargo, journalists will break a …

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