Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Selling Platforms for Cash?

I sent the following letter to the Guardian newspaper on November 22nd. As you’ll see, the letter was prompted by a rather swiftly-published comment piece, penned by an anonymous junior doctor, following the strike ballot result.

the Guardian didn’t publish the letter, so I make it available here. Oddly, while they did not believe it worth publishing, they did consider it worthy of an email response. I’ve pasted the response below the letter.

Sir,
Of those junior doctors eligible to vote, 76% did so. They voted in response to a question which asked them if they were willing to take strike action, action short of a strike, or no action, in their long dispute with the Secretary of State for Health. 98% voted for strike action.

While Jeremy Hunt’s mandate is based on his party having gained the support of 24% of eligible voters, the mandate enjoyed by the junior doctors’ in their decision to strike is based on support from 74% of the eligible vote…

There are numerous possible stories here.

So, we were somewhat surprised to see that one of the first published responses to this ballot result in The Guardian was the article "I'm a Junior Doctor, and I will not Strike" [ http://www.theguardian.com/…/19/junior-doctors-contract-str… ] by an “anonymous author” who spoke on behalf of the 2% who voted against taking strike action, and who advocated not accepting the result as binding.

This surprise turned to disappointment and anger when we saw that the anonymously-authored article was a SPONSORED article, sponsored by a prominent health management consultancy called Skills For Health.

This brings into question the editorial integrity of The Guardian, where advertising and commentary become indistinguishable. Is The Guardian now in the business of selling platforms for propaganda to organisations with obvious interests and allegiances?

Dr Phil Hutchinson (Philosophy, MMU)
Prof Tim Thornton (School of Health, UCLAN)
Prof Michael Loughlin (Applied Philosophy, MMU)
Cristian Sanchez-Gonzalez
Jo Boffey
Lena Thane-Clarke
Dr Shamira A. Meghani (UUniversity of Leeds)
Stuart Hilton
Dr Ben Walker
Dr Oskari Kuusela (Philosophy, UEA)
Dr Lene Auestad

 

Email response from the Guardian:

Dear Dr Hutchinson

Your letter was forwarded by the letters desk to the readers' editor's office. Your suggestion that an article by one of the minority of doctors opposed to the strike was published because it was sponsored by Skills for Health is incorrect. To be clear, Skills for Health does not sponsor that individual article but the workforce development hub as a whole. That hub is a section of the healthcare professionals network on our website.

The hub, and individual articles within it, are clearly marked as being "sponsored by" Skills for Health, with a badge showing that branding prominently at the top of the article and hub (just underneath the byline on articles, which in this case is "Anonymous junior doctor"), alongside a link that says "About this content". If you click on that link, there is a fuller explanation of what "sponsored by" means in this context, which in short is editorially independent content, as distinct from advertisement features that are controlled by the advertiser.

The workforce development hub covers a range of NHS workforce issues, including the junior doctors' contract. As sponsor of the site, Skills for Health does not have any editorial control over content, and does not see any content before publication (nor any content plan).  The sponsorship enables the network to publish content from a range of voices, and we have also published pro-strike pieces on the workforce development hub, including this one last week – http://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2015/nov/11/jeremy-hunt-has-torn-up-social-contract-between-junior-doctors-and-the-state

With regard to the anonymity of the author of the article, I'm told by the healthcare professionals network that some doctors who have been in touch with them during the course of the contract dispute who are unsure about or against action have told them how much hostility they've encountered online from pro-strike colleagues, and this was an important factor in deciding to publish this piece anonymously.

Regards

Rory Foster

Guardian Readers' editor's office

Guardian News & Media

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+44 (0)20 3353 4736

guardian.readers@theguardian.com

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@GdnReadersEd

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Kings Place, 90 York Way,

London N1 9GU

theguardian.com

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