Drug manufacturers finance a journalist who pillories critics of their products. For any conventional pharmaceutical company this would be regarded as a scandal. But the globules manufacturers see no problem in that, rather a "constructive dialogue".
by Jens Lubbadeh
It is simple to use Google to pillory someone: all it needs is a professional-looking Web page in which a person's credibility is undermined. Then the name of the person to discredit should be mentioned in the text as often as possible. The page will be automatically ranked in the top results when someone searches for the person. For people whose credibility is their capital, such as journalists and academics, this digital character assassination is particularly devastating.
It is simple to use Google to pillory someone: all it needs is a professional-looking Web page in which a person's credibility is undermined. Then the name of the person to discredit should be mentioned in the text as often as possible. The page will be automatically ranked in the top results when someone searches for the person. For people whose credibility is their capital, such as journalists and academics, this digital character assassination is particularly devastating. If you google the journalist Max Rauner one of the first search results you get is the blog of the German central association of homepathic physicians (Deutscher Zentralverein homöopathischer Ärzte, DZVhÄ). Title of the article: "Max Rauner's sciolism on Edzard Ernst". There Rauner, multiple award-winning journalist, is accused of bad research and violation of journalistic due diligence. Rauner, so the article alleges, sacrificed the truth for a good story.
What was Rauner's misdemeanor? He published a portrait of Edzard Ernst in the magazine ZEIT WISSEN. ("Edzard vs. Charles"). Ernst, professor for alternative medicine at the University of Exeter, does research on the benefits and risks of alternative therapies, including homeopathy. Like many scientists in the past he came to the same conclusion: the sugar beads are no more effective than placebos. Since that Ernst has been a red rag to homeopaths. As everybody who criticizes the sugar beads or their proponents.
Responsible for the article about Max Rauner is Claus Fritzsche. If you criticize Fritzsche's articles he will respond in the same manner and publishes the next "news": "Jens Lubbadeh criticizes DZVhÄ".
The masthead of Fritzsche's webpage (www.claus-fritzsche.de) states him as science and medical journalist, but he also writes flyers and brochures for companies. Fritzsche holds a master of B.A. and studied with the help of a scholarship of Karstadt AG. On his page he stresses his longyear working experience in marketing of industry products in need of explanation.
For the association of german homeopathic physicians (DZVhÄ) his job seems to be the pilloring of homeopathy-critics. For this he is supported by the homeopathic lobby and globules manufacturers. On request DZVhÄ and several manufacturers admitted that they finance his personal blogs and the articles on blogs for whom he acts as editor in chief.
Fritzsche himselfs openly admits the "sponsorship" of his CAM-Media.Watch-blog by the manufacturers. In august 2011 he wrote for the sake of "transparency": "The companies Deutsche Homöopathie-Union (DHU) and Biologische Heilmittel Heel support CAM Media.Watch financially". Other sponsors include: Staufen Pharma, WALA Heilmittel, Weleda, Hevert). All in all Fritzsche receives 43.000 Euro annually from these six manufacturers of homeopathic products.
Manufacturers of medicinal products finance a journalist who pillories critics of their products. For any conventional pharmaceutical company this would be a huge scandal. An example is the case of lobbyist Adel Massaad, who was on the payroll of several pharmaceutical companies. In 2006 he tried to discredit the former chief of the institute for quality and efficiency in health IQWiG, Peter Sawicki.
Fritzsche's sponsors are the popular manufacturers of homeopathic globules. Market leader is DHU, a subsidiary of Schwabe (well-known products include Kytta, Prostagutt, Tebonin). 500 employers work in DHU headquarters in Karlsruhe. As market leader and company with a long tradition DHU regards itself as a "guard of homeopathy", CEO Franz Stempfle told the news magazine DER SPIEGEL in 2010. The sums they are dealing with are not peanuts: Total sales of all manufacturers amounts to 400 million Euro, 100 alone on behalf of DHU. No comment from DHU about their profits though.
Fritzsche sees no problem in the sponsorship: "Nearly identical contracts exist with every sponsor", he openly writes. "These contracts oblige me to respect relevant laws, to remain a neutral position regarding ideology, science and politics. Moreover they provide independency of my editorial work and my scientific advisory board." Also advertising of products is strictly excluded.
But for a publisher of a journalistic blog also the codex of the press applies. "For the responsibility of the press towards the public it is common courtesy that editorial publications must not be biased by private or economical interests of third parties or personal economical interests of journalists." Furthermore: "Anyone who lets himself be bribed for the publishing or suppressing of news acts dishonorable and against the values of his profession." How he reconciles this with his sponsoring Fritzsche was asked. No answer to these questions from him, though several emails were written in which he criticized the "leading questions" and threatened to instigate legal measures.
Fritzsche has several more websites on which he recommends esoteric therapies that are not scientifically acknowledged. Moreover he denigrated several journalists from SPIEGEL ONLINE, DER SPIEGEL, ZEIT, SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG, SÜDDEUTSCHE.DE. And of course Edzard Ernst, again and again. The allegations are always the same: frivolous research, incompetence, lopsided and biased presentation of facts. Fritzsche counterlinks his sites to each other in order to improve their google ranking. Besides CAM Media.Watch Fritzsche also holds the websites www.psychophysik.com, www.neuraltherapie-blog.de and www.esowatch.org.
Neural therapy works through injections of local anaesthetics to help the body to heal itself. The side effects of this dubious and scientifically unapproved method can be lethal. On Psychophysik.com Fritzsche deals with esoteric phenomenons such as spiritual healing, also there he has a homeopathy blog in which he denigrates critics.
On all these sites the same scientists appear - in different roles. On neuraltherapie-blog.de Imke Plitschko interviews Claus Fritzsche on his editorial work for CAM Media-Watch. Plitschko practices neural therapy in Munich. Moreover she also criticizes Max Rauner's portrait, not forgetting to mention Fritzsche's pillory. Another persistent guest on these sites is Harald Walach, who leads the controversial institute for transcultural health sciences at the Europa university Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder). Walach is member of Fritzsche's scientific adisory board of CAM Media.Watch-blog.
The university is subject to heavy criticism since it conducts studies on clairvoyance and esoterical therapies. In one experiment a masters student researched, if his machine could facilitate the contact with extraterrestrials and dead persons. Walach's endowed professorship is financed by Heel, one of the companies that also finance Fritzsche's CAM-Media.Watch-blog. In the institute's blog Walach also links to CAM Media.Watch.
Fritzsche, Walach, Plischko and others - it is a whole network that supports itself. An internal email that was revealed to Süddeutsche Zeitung proves that. In this mail Fritzsche sent a draft of the Max Rauner pillory to his network, requesting them to check on "content and style". He particularly adresses Walach, because of his great "background knowledge on the matter", helpful stilistical suggestions highly approved. Sincere journalism that the self-proclaimed science and medical journalist Fritzsche always demands from his colleagues looks different.
How do Fritzsches sponsors see his engagement? For DZVhÄ it is no problem to support a journalist: "If journalists write obviously wrong or biased articles about homeopathy, we take our right to ask them and report about it in our own publications", DZVhÄ responded to Süddeutsche Zeitung. "Journalists have the opportunity to demonstrate their point of view. But for us one journalistic virtue is eminent: speech and objection." The journalistic virtue not to take money from companies or associations seems insignificant to DZVhÄ however.
Does Fritzsche act on behalf of the companies? Interestingly DHU, Heel, Weleda, Wala and Hevert responded in nearly identical statements to this question: "We support the constructive dialogue in complementaty medicine." No one is pillored on CAM Media.Watch, "this allegation we cannot understand. And we would not want to support it."
To finance journalists is ok, so the answer of the companies. Because the financing is transparent and it only accounts for the operation of the blog. Importantly the editorial independence is guaranteed by contract. There is no mandate and no economical benefit is gained through Fritzsche's work.
The question remains if the companies still would sponsor Fritzsche if he suddenly would make up his independent editorial mind and praised critics of homeopathy.
Copyright: Süddeutsche Zeitung Digitale Medien GmbH / Süddeutsche Zeitung GmbH / Original article