CJFE concerned about issue of editorial independence at the CMAJ

Saturday, March 18, 2006
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) expressed grave concern today over the Canadian Medical Association Journal's continuing crisis, which deepened on Wednesday with the resignation of most of the journal's editorial committee. CJFE believes the Canadian Medical Association's actions with regard to the CMAJ's editorial team constitute a serious threat to editorial independence and the free expression rights of CMAJ editors, staff and contributors. "I'm concerned that such a prestigious journal is diminishing editorial independence, the very quality that has made the CMAJ one of the world's top five medical journals ," CJFE board member Bob Carty said. In particular, CJFE is dismayed at the dismissal of Editor Dr. John Hoey and Senior Deputy Editor Anne Marie Todkill on February 20. Publisher Graham Morris's explanation that he felt "it was time for a fresh approach" to the CMAJ's editorial leadership does not appear to be a credible or substantial reason for such an action. Four other editors have since resigned from the journal, and CJFE fears that the dismissals and the resulting turmoil indicate the CMA is not committed to meeting the standard preferred by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, in which "editors have the full authority for determining the editorial content of the journal." CJFE endorses the view expressed on Wednesday by 16 members of the editorial committee, who said in a letter to CMA President Dr. Ruth Collins-Nakai: "We believe your recent actions and pronouncements regarding establishing editorial autonomy are largely cosmetic and unlikely to lead to an independent and free voice for health-related issues in Canada." CJFE calls upon the CMA to make public its reasons for the dismissals and to clarify its reasons for withholding against the wishes of its editors a story in December 2005, about guidelines followed by Canadian pharmacists in dispensing the emergency contraceptive Plan B. The article was reportedly rewritten to be more acceptable to pharmacists. Another article about Health Minister Tony Clement, published electronically on Feb. 7, 2006, was also apparently withdrawn from publication. "We regularly see that kind of heavy hand in Asia, Africa and Latin America, but are startled to find the owners of a medical journal violating free expression rights here in Canada," said Paul Knox, a board member of CJFE and chair of its Canadian Issues committee. The CMA's website currently makes Dr. Collins-Nakai's President's message on this issue accessible to members only. This issue is of concern to all Canadians and demands far greater transparency. CJFE is an association of more than 300 journalists, editors, publishers, producers, students and others who work to promote and defend free expression and press freedom in Canada and around the world. -30- For more information: contact Julie Payne at (416) 515-9622 or send an e-mail. Bob Carty (613) 288-6530

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