A Salutary Lesson

Posted on May 9, 2014

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The one thing I have learned from this exchange in the Columbia Journalism Review last year, is that on the web it is important to keep correcting the record. I regret that due to time pressures at the end of term, I was unable to engage with the comments after I published the article. This has led to the accusation from Lord Stern’s Policy and Communication Director, Bob Ward, that my views on the Science Media Centre were “misinformed”. The troublesome sentence in my original piece was repeated here yesterday.

“It has cast biased press briefings such as one on GMOs, funded by Monsanto and invited unwitting and time-starved journalists”

In retrospect, I made an error. The SMC had run a biased pro GMO briefing (on 28 March 2012). The SMC was, according to its website, directly funded by Monsanto at that time. However I made the assumption that events like the GMO “whiffy wheat” press briefing were a result of such funding without clearly been able to identify this. I have checked the sources I have on this and have found no evidence to support this assumption.

In order to put my ‘mea culpa’ into context, at the time it was very difficult to obtain transparent financial information from the SMC on precisely what funding it gets from which source. There was then a complete lack of transparency especially in the area of the financial donation.  This problem has only marginally improved since then in that the SMC now declares total amounts of funding from categories of funders – as opposed to which funder gives precisely how much.

I stand by the rest of the post.

Fiona Fox, the CEO of the SMC has stated that “We do not make editorial decisions in return for funds and have never run a briefing in return for sponsorship from Monsanto.” 

I am skeptical about SMC claims that they do not take funding for specific purposes or to promote specific institutions or projects. Can Fiona Fox reassure us that this has never happened?

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