Intended for healthcare professionals


Investigative journalist wins British Journalism Award for “expertly researched” BMJ series

BMJ 2021; 375 doi: (Published 09 December 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;375:n3052
  1. Rebecca Coombes
  1. The BMJ

A journalist writing for The BMJ has won a British Journalism Award1 for his series on the financial interests of medical experts advising US and UK governments during the covid-19 pandemic.

As a result of the articles written by Paul Thacker, an investigative journalist, the financial disclosures of members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) were published for the first time.2

Awarding the prize for specialist journalism, the judges said, “This was expertly researched and written journalism on a subject of huge national importance.”

Thacker’s first story3 looked at two groups critical to the UK government’s pandemic response—SAGE and the Vaccine Taskforce. He examined both and found that they did not disclose their members’ financial conflicts. Some members were tied to companies with a monetary interest in the government’s purchases.

The names and financial interests of both groups’ members were requested from government departments but were denied. Thacker then filed freedom of information (FoI) requests with multiple government departments and Oxford University. In a second story4 he wrote about the government’s repeated refusal to turn over these data. However, the FoI turned up heavily redacted emails with government officials discussing their strategy for not disclosing documents. It revealed that Thacker’s original request was apparently sent to a special government department to handle any reporter considered a “campaigner” or to have “extreme views.”

Eventually, the government relented and published the financial conflicts for the members of SAGE.5

In the final story of the series6 Thacker looked at the panels that the US and UK governments used to authorise vaccines and revealed that these disclosure policies were inadequate. Some experts evaluating the vaccines had significant industry ties that were not disclosed in government forms.

Also nominated in the specialist journalism category was Gareth Iacobucci, The BMJ’s assistant news editor, for his coverage of leaked government “moonshot” plans to spend £100bn to expand covid-19 testing.78