THE GHANAIAN MEDIA AND CONSUMER PROTECTION: THE CASE OF THE (TRADITIONAL) MEDICINE INDUSTRY
The issue of consumer protection has been widely discussed in many countries across the world and especially in the advanced countries. In recent times, this discussion has diffused into developing countries, especially in Africa and most particularly in Ghana. Also, the media’s integrity and ethics of Journalism has been extensively debated. The subject matter of using the media to promote drugs and drug related products to consumers directly has undergone much scrutiny lately. The literature on these issues is profuse, yet some notable ones will be reviewed in the subsequent paragraphs.
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To begin with, Julie Donohue in her article, “A History of Drug Advertising: The Evolving Roles of Consumers and Consumer Protection” (2006) queried the importance of direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) on drugs. Although she agreed on the fact that “the main tool of consumer protection laws is the disclosure of information in order to level the playing field between buyers and sellers” (p662), to her, this phenomenon actually encourages “self-diagnosis” and is therefore detrimental to consumer’s health. She blamed this problem on the legal and cultural changes in health care. In her own words, she argued that the “legal and cultural changes in health care brought about by the patients’ and consumers’ rights movements laid the groundwork for the DTCA of prescription drugs. DTCA was surely an unintended consequence of these social movements and may, paradoxically, serve to frustrate future efforts to protect patients and consumers” (p691).
She further argued that the use of mass media advertising for prescription drugs misleads consumers into taking costly prescription drugs that they do not need. She opined that mass media advertisements were only intended to be a “vehicle for pharmaceutical manufacturers to tell end users about their products’…and ‘not to help businesses market their products” (p662). According to her, drugs that advertised to consumers had the advantage of established brand recognition, and this is what has accounted for most pharmaceutical companies pushing their products to the mass media to be advertised.
Also, in the book The Truth About the Drug Companies (2004), Angell Marcia, apprised us thoroughly on underpinnings of drug companies. Tracing their eruption from 1980, Angell, lamented the manner in which the pharmaceutical industry has not been innovative. To him, “only a handful of truly important drugs have been brought to market in recent years, and they were mostly based on taxpayer-funded research at academic institutions, small biotechnology companies or the National Institutes of Health. The majority of ‘new’ drugs are not new at all but merely variations of older drugs already on the market. These are called ‘me-too’ drugs”. (p3).
He explained that the thinking behind these “me-too” drugs is to grab a share of an established, lucrative market and make profit. Thus, to him, drug companies spring up almost every day, not because they intend to bring any new product onto the market, but only to reproduce drugs which are already in existence, and with the motive of making profit. This motive informs their resort to the mass media for direct-to-consumer advertisements (DTCA) so as to gain advantage over their competitors. He thus advocates that the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) must stiffen their approval of new drugs coming unto the market. Thus, to him, “the me-too market would collapse virtually overnight if the FDA made approval of new drugs contingent on their being better in some important way than older drugs already on the market” (p12). He is of the view that this measure would make drug companies focus on finding truly innovative drugs and also reduce the incessant and enormously expensive marketing necessary to jockey for position in the me-too market.
Furthermore, in their article “Media Credibility and Informativeness of Direct-to-Consumer Prescription Drug Advertising”(2004), Huh et al evaluated consumer perceptions of the media credibility and informativeness of direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertisement and examined how those perceptions were influenced by consumer predispositions and demographic characteristics. To them, DTC advertisements are targeted mostly at “older consumers’…’a segment that is particularly susceptible and vulnerable to commercial persuasion” (p29). This is because, to them studies have documented “various physical, psychological and social changes that accompany aging, including reduced sensory abilities…cognitive impairments…that can alter the communication process and result in decision-making difficulties and decreased resistance to persuasion” (p34). This trend, they argue is what has necessitated the insistence on media credibility because “audience tend to rely on media they consider credible and informative” (p29) in choosing which drug to buy or not to buy.
They argued that, in recent times, the basic objective of DTC advertisements are to “inform, persuade and remind consumers to take prescribed actions toward advertised drugs-to learn, to prefer, to ask for, and to ask for again” (p30). This, to them, is a significant departure from the original form of advertising, which concentrated on “influencing and maintaining demand for prescription drugs through the use of the push promotion strategy” and which took the form of “trade advertising directed at physicians and was used to deliver information that would work with other promotional tools to educate, persuade and help sell advertised drugs to physicians” (p29). Notable among their findings was the fact that “consumers place greater value on the information utility of the media of DTC drug advertising than its credibility as an information source about prescription drugs” (p53).
Moreover, Burke et al in their article “Deception by Implication: An Experimental Investigation” (1988) set out to, among other things, measure the “misleading of two common types of advertising claims and their relative effectiveness for increasing consumer brand preference and purchase likelihood” (p484). These types of advertising claims include, those “that might lead the consumer to have a false impression of a product not by literal interpretation, but by implication” (ibid). To them, there is a need for consumer protection for products such as “pain relievers, where brands offer similar or identical performance and consumers lack a rigorous reality test of the truthfulness of ad claims” (p492). This is because, they found out that “expanded and qualified claims can enhance consumers’ images of advertised brand and related purchase intentions” (ibid). They then proffered that in view of the potential of these advertisements to “mislead consumers in cases where the advertised brand has no real competitive differentiation, advertisers are advised to use such claims judiciously” (ibid).
To add to, in his article “Self Regulation and Television Advertising: A Replication and Extension” (2001), Abernethy Avery opined that “although television stations have the right to reject almost any advertisement submitted for broadcast, exercising that power to protect consumers from potentially false or misleading claims can directly lower station revenues” (p1). Thus to him, because of the possibility of television stations, like other media platforms, of losing revenue or not making much profit, these media outlets accept any advertisement from advertisers and air them on their platforms, without recourse to whether or not the advertisement can harm or mislead the consumer. Though he agrees that there are state and federal laws regulating the advertising of certain products such as tobacco, and also specific punitive measures for false and misleading or defamatory advertisements, he is of the view that much responsibility rests on media houses to engage in “self-regulation” (p2) or “clearance process” (p3) to sieve advertisements before putting them out for the public’s consumption.
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In his own words, “owners and managers of media vehicles have great power to determine the type of advertising they carry’…’and determine if it is acceptable for their audience” (p2). He believes this process has the potential to “provide considerable consumer protection from false, misleading, or, inappropriate advertising” (p3). He found out through his research that “only 3% of stations substantiate the claims of every submitted advertisement and 2.5% of stations reject 10% or more of advertisements submitted for broadcast” (p9). These results to him, indicate that the “consumer protection provided by television advertising…is uneven” (ibid). As part of measures to curb this anomaly, he posits that the Federal Communications Commission must “require stations to submit their advertising review policies during license renewal and that those policies be part of public record” (p10). He believed that this measure would improve consumer protection since media houses and advertisers will be under obligation to put out true information about products.
Donohue, J., (2006) “A History of Drug Advertising: The Evolving Roles of Consumers and Consumer Protection” in Milbank Quarterly, Vol. 84, Issue 4, pp 659-699
Marcia, A., (2004) “The Truth about the Drug Companies”.
Huh et al., (2004) “Media Credibility and Informativeness of Direct-to-Consumer Prescription Drug Advertising” in Health Marketing Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp 27-61
Burke et al., (1988) “Deception by Implication: An Experimental Investigation” in Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp 483-494
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