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Feature Medicine and the Media

The not so independent tobacco experts

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 25 April 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2908
  1. Meg Carter, freelance journalist
  1. 1Bath, UK
  1. meg{at}

The media don’t always make clear the potential conflicts of interests of interviewees, writes Meg Carter. For example, panellists on a recent radio debate about tobacco packaging were not asked about their links to big tobacco

Transparency in lobbying was one of the hoped for outcomes from the UK government’s controversial lobbying act, due for royal assent this year.1 This legislation has been criticised for, among other things, its narrow definition of lobbying and a new register of declared interests that would cover only a fraction of lobbyists. Now attention is settling on a sector beyond the bill’s remit: the media.

“All too often the media perpetuates the illusion that lobbyists—think tanks, especially—are independent sources of information and ideas,” said Tamasin Cave, director of the transparency campaigning group Spinwatch. “While I understand the need for opinion and comment, media organisations do their audiences a disservice by not explaining these contributors’ financial backing or vested interests.”

Her comments follow the launch of a petition on by the author and Guardian columnist George Monbiot, urging the BBC always to disclose the relevant financial interests of the people it interviews.2 Monbiot’s call has come after several articles in which he criticised the BBC for letting think tanks argue the tobacco companies’ case against the introduction of plain packaging.3 …

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