Correcting the News.

The complainant, Nigel Rawson, took issue with the description of the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health as independent because it is funded by various levels of government. The programmers agreed it was not entirely accurate. So do I. The next step is to correct the article as prescribed by CBC journalistic policy.

COMPLAINT

CBC News staff published an article entitled 5 Pharmacare questions and answers concerning a possible national Pharmacare programme for this country. In that context, mention was made of the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH), an agency funded by federal, provincial and territorial governments to provide evaluation of new drugs and health technologies. It advises provincial governments about which new drugs should be covered under public drug plans. You objected to the description of the agency as an independent one, noting that it is funded by various levels of government:

CADTH’s claim to independence is a self-proclaimed one. As we have shown, the adherence of CADTH’s processes to the good governance principles of accountability to all stakeholders, transparency for all concerned, participation by all stakeholders, equity, responsiveness and consensus building is poor because CADTH’s overriding responsibility is to the governments that own, fund and manage it. CADTH does not operate at arms-length from the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Mark Harrison, the Executive Producer of the Science and Technology Unit, replied to your concerns. He acknowledged that the funding relationship between CADTH and governments undermines its self-description as an independent agency:

But the word “independence” is usually understood as implying autonomy. And to suggest that here may be misleading. CADTH does not take money from the drug companies whose products it conducts research into, but it does take money to fund that research from the federal, provincial and territorial governments that run the Canadian health care system.

CADTH has detailed rules covering conflicts of interest to ensure its independence of the drug industry, but they do not make it truly independent of government. Simply to describe it as “independent” may not give readers enough information to be able properly to assess the organization.

He said the description of the agency should have been more precise. He also apologized for responding to a complaint in July that was sent in March.

REVIEW

Precision and accuracy are core values in CBC journalism. Mr. Harrison acknowledged that that bar was not met in this instance. He said the description could have been clearer. It should have been, yet the copy remains unchanged. CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices has policy regarding corrections:

We make every effort to avoid errors on the air and online. In keeping with principles of accuracy, integrity and fairness, we correct a significant error when we have been able to establish that one has occurred. This is essential for our credibility with Canadians. When a correction is necessary, it is made promptly given the circumstances, with due regard for the reach of the published error.

The fact that a situation has evolved so that information that was accurate at the time of its publication is no longer accurate does not mean that an error was committed, but we must consider the appropriateness of updating it, taking into account its importance and impact.

In some cases, material isn’t inaccurate per se, but risks misleading the audience. In such cases we can consider publishing or airing a clarification.

In this case Mr. Harrison noted that is, at the least, misleading. I appreciate this was a passing reference and not the focus of the piece, but removing the adjective and explaining the funding arrangement would have been a clearer and more accurate reflection of the role of the agency.

I note in your response to Mr. Harrison you stated the agency is not independent of drug companies because it requires a fee to submit a drug for evaluation. To address that level of detail in this context is not reasonable. A description of the funding of CADTH and its function, without the use of the adjective, would suffice. This is not an examination of the agency or its governance. This is the reference online:

What would be covered?

Not everything would be covered.

Currently, public drug plans decide what to cover and what not to, as do public plans in other countries.

Price, efficacy, usage and need are all factors.

For instance, the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health or CADTH, an independent national organization, makes recommendations to provincial plans to guide those decisions. The agency evaluates new drugs based on factors such as affordability and whether the drug is more effective than existing options.

The journalistic policy spells out the action that should be taken in this case. I trust CBC News management will ensure it is done. I also note that this took an unacceptably long time to answer.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman