A new European journalists network launched a trifecta of stories last week investigating the pharmaceutical industry. The stories reveal how European pharmaceutical companies have put the lid on disquieting information about potential side effects from an array of commonly used medicines, the power of the pharmaceutical lobby in influencing European legislation, and the new policies which permit drug advertising. The series suggests that the pharmaceutical industry in Europe is wielding its influence in much the same ways as it has been revealed to be doing in the United States, through connections with university researchers and asserting confidentiality on basic medicinal information.
The stories represent the debut effort of the new network, IRENE—Investigative Reporters Network, Europe—which now has journalists working in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. The authors of the jointly bylined stories are Brigitte Alfter, Joop Bouma, and Marleen Teugels, each of them award-winning journalists in their home countries of Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, respectively. The stories were published simultaneously in the Danish magazine Samvirke, the Dutch newspaper Trouw and the Belgian magazine KNACK. An English-language translation of the series appears here. The team also wrote an original English-language condensation of the series for the Brussels-based newspaper EU Observer. In that story, they explain their pioneering use of the EU freedom of information law, which enabled them to gain access to pharmaceutical industry and government documents from the EU capital in Brussels and from each of their three countries. The group works closely with the Belgian journalism foundation, Pascal deCroos Fund for Investigative Reporting, which promotes the use of the Europe’s freedom of information laws through a website called, simply, wobbing—a Flemish slang word adopted by European journalists and interpreted to mean: Getting documents out of the government which they’d rather not provide.
We will keep you posted on IRENE’’s latest revelations on The Muckraker blog.