Glaxo[SmithKline] is underwriting the April broadcast of Fat: What No One is Telling You, the second in the 'Take One Step' series of health-related shows and outreach PBS is undertaking in concert with the YMCA. The series kicked off this week with a show on heart disease, but Glaxo was not a funder, according to a spokeswoman for producer WGBH Boston. But Glaxo is underwriting the 'Fat' show, which debuts April 11.
Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, and a frequent critic of what he sees as the increasingly commercialization of noncommercial broadcasting, has written to PBS ombudsman Michael Getler to complain about what he sees as too lax sponsorship policies.
'We note that funding comes in part from GlaxoSmithKline,' Chester wrote Getler. 'The drug giant just happens to have a recently approved for over-the-counter drug on the market-under the brand name Alli, that is for use by overweight adults along with a reduced calorie, low-fat diet.'
Chester fears the show will effectively be a plug for the new diet drug and that 'Programs on PBS should be free of connections to sponsors who have a vested interest in an issue.'
And Broadcasting & Cable further reported:
PBS ombudsman Michael Getler says he doesn't think PBS should have accepted a sponsorship from drug company GlaxoSmithKline for an obesity special airing next month.
On the PBS Web site, Getler in response says that 'even though GlaxoSmithKline came in late and, under PBS policy, has no say in any of the content, this kind of possible conflict can undermine credibility and, without knowing the financial details, doesn't seem worth it.'
Well, at least one organization has an ombudsman that seems ready to tell it like it is.
This is an illustration of just how pervasive stealth marketing is in health care.
Again, if pharmaceutical companies (and other organizations) want to regain the trust of the public and professionals, they at least should only market their products in situations in which the marketing nature of the activity, and who sponsored it, are clear.
See also a post on the Pharmalot blog. This story does not yet seem to have made it to the more general media, much less, of course, the medical and health care literature.