Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Medicines and the media: news reports of medicines recommended for government reimbursement in Australia

Jane Robertson*, Emily J Walkom, Marc D Bevan and David A Newby

Author Affiliations

Clinical Pharmacology, School of Medicine and Public Health, The University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:489  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-489

Published: 21 May 2013



Previous analyses of the listings of trastuzumab on the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and HPV vaccine on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) suggest a media influence on policy makers. We examined the timing and content of Australian newspaper reports of medicines in relation to Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) decisions.


We identified newspaper reports (2005-2008) of medicines recommended for PBS listing in 2006–2007, analysing the content for mentions of the medicine, PBS and medicine costs to the patient and the government and counting the numbers of articles published in the six months before, the month of, and the six months after the relevant PBAC meeting. Case studies examined reporting for infliximab for Crohn’s Disease, pemetrexed for mesothelioma, and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) medicines atomoxetine and methylphenidate.


Of 79 eligible medicines, 62 had news reports. Most often reported were HPV vaccine (1230 stories), trastuzumab (410), pemetrexed (83), botulinum toxin (71), lapatinib (65), methylphenidate (57), atomoxetine (54), infliximab (49), rotavirus vaccine (45). Eighteen medicines had ≥20 news reports (total 2350 stories); nine of these cost more than AU$10,000 per course or year of treatment. For these 18 medicines, 31% of stories appeared in the six months prior to the PBAC meeting, 14% in the meeting month and 33% in the six months post-meeting. 38% of the stories had ≥3 medicine mentions, 37% referred to the PBS, 24% to cost to the patient, and 9% cost to Government.

There was active patient lobby group campaigning in support of listing of infliximab and pemetrexed; the stories for ADHD were often more negative, referring to the dangers of the medicines and sometimes questioning the appropriateness of treatment and public subsidy. There was little discussion of the PBAC’s evidence-based decision-making processes.


While there was no general trend to increased news reporting associated with PBAC meetings, some drugs did attract media attention. With more new and expensive drugs, decisions on public funding will become increasingly difficult. The media have an important role in enhancing public understanding of the issues around resource allocation. Specialist journalists, guidelines and checklists may help reporting.

Pharmaceuticals; PBAC; Media; Australia