One of the best science journalists from Uruguay, Cristina Canoura, had very good and bad news recently. She won the prize Bartolomé Hidalgo, by the Cámara Uruguaya del Libro (Uruguayan Chamber of Book), for her beatiful book Los invencibles, which was published last year. The same prize in another category was won by the famous writer and journalist Eduardo Galeano at the same time. But the happiness of Canoura was short.
She became angry when she noticed that the Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO) has published a research document in 2002 that mentions her as an “independent journalist” who went to Miami invited by a tobacco company to assist in a seminar for journalists.
Based on the industry´s official documents, the PAHO´s paper (“Profit over people”) informs about the strategies of marketing of tobacco industry to get more clients. It affirms: “Anticipating growth in public concern over smoking and health issues, the goal of the symposia was to tilt regional journalists’ opinions in favor of the industry” (Page 27). So, the industry organized several media seminars in Latin America. The journalist Canoura was one of the attendants. The document quotes 22 journalists from Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela (most of them are not science journalists).
She criticized the authors because “the trip did not mean any story in favour of the tobacco industry”. On the contrary, she published a story a year after the trip to Miami about the hazards of smoking for health. She included a list of places to get help to quit smoking. Her sources were doctors and industry representatives, according to what she wrote in a new column.
She wrote a column published in Búsqueda, the newspaper for which she is actually a staff reporter, on December 4th 2008: “If you infer a journalist who is invited to a conference or seminar can be “bought” or “corrupted” by the organizers is as serious as to suspect a doctor giving a prescription because the drug company helped him to support his or her congress´ fee, gave funds for brochure or a computer for his or her hospital”. At the end of her column, she says all kind of fundamentalisms “always are terrible”.
Should the PAHO retire the names of journalists from the document? Should PAHO apologize to them? Or should the journalists not accept to go to tobacco industry seminars?