On its March 7 broadcast, ABC's World News Tonight tried to give its viewers some background on the legal battle over pharmaceutical patents and AIDS drugs in Africa. But viewers only heard from one side in the debate: the drug companies and their supporters.
The report, by ABC's Deborah Amos, relied on three sources: a spokesperson from the South African Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, the executive vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and an analyst from the Cato Institute, a conservative-libertarian think tank. All three promoted the same theme: Drug companies should not be blamed for trying to protect their patents.
Excluding critics in this dispute is baffling. Activists from around the world are gathered in South Africa now, as 39 pharmaceutical companies have taken the South African government to court over its plan to allow production of generic versions of AIDS drugs, a practice known as compulsory licensing. The activists argue that the escalating health crisis in Africa, where 25 million people are estimated to be HIV positive, gives the government the right to pursue such a policy, which they say is completely legal under current international trade laws.
Experts who represent this point of view are readily available to the media: The Institute for Public Accuracy, a D.C.-based press advisory group, issued a press release on March 6 offering interviews with prominent critics of the drug industry's position (www.accuracy.org/press_releases/PR030601.htm ).
A shorter companion segment, by correspondent Jim Wooten, did describe the human cost of high drug prices in Malawi, but did not include any drug industry critics who might have explained how AIDS medicine could be made affordable.
This isn't the first time ABC has presented mainly the drug company view on this issue. On July 8, 1999, World News Tonight aired two segments that essentially argued that making cheaper drugs available would have little impact on public health in African countries. The segments were dominated by sources from the pharmaceutical industry and its supporters, though one South African government official was quoted criticizing the drug companies.
In his March 7 introduction, ABC anchor Peter Jennings called the story of AIDS in Africa "one of the profound questions of our time." Unfortunately, ABC sought the answers from only one side of the dispute.
Please contact ABC World News Tonight and encourage them to include critics of the pharmaceutical industry in their ongoing coverage of the AIDS crisis in Africa.
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