Update 18 May 2015: Guardian Readers’ Editor says Danone-sponsored content “a mistake” – Update 23 July 2015: Guardian.com Editor accepts this conclusion and thanks Baby Milk Action for prompting more rigorous scrutiny of sponsors.
Baby Milk Action received a response from The Guardian editorial team on 23 April 2015 about a Danone-sponsored roundtable discussion and subsequent article in the newspaper on pregnancy and infant feeding. We asked it on 4 April to reconsider hosting the event and to comment on concerns about the conflicts of interest of having Danone as a sponsor. The event went ahead on 8 April.
The Danone-sponsored article appeared in The Guardian on 22 April. None of the information we sent to the organisers about Danone’s systematic breaking of marketing rules, hijacking of the 1000 days health initiative or misleading claims for products it promotes appeared in the article.
Three key messages in the article promote Danone’s agenda: the suggestion that government should cooperate with the food industry, that nutrition if you are breastfeeding is complex and that there is a lot of confusion about how long to exclusively breastfeed (with the implication that the clear guidance from the Department of Health to exclusively breastfeed until 6 months and then continue while introducing complementary foods is wrong – Danone promotes products for use from 4 months).
The article clearly highlights that Danone sponsored the roundtable discussion and article (left), but does not reveal:
- the extent to which Danone set the terms for the event (sponsors may suggest the topics to be covered),
- the fact that some of the health experts invited refused to attend due to the conflicts of interest,
- that two of the panel of seven that did attend had easily identified links with Danone, which were not declared in the article (another worked for Danone and a fourth for another baby food company).
It is illuminating to compare The Guardian article with an article on the same topic in the Irish Examiner. See Media studies: Danone-sponsored content in The Guardian.
Here is the response we received from The Guardian on 23 April. Feel free to leave comments on this post – or act on the invitation to send a letter to The Guardian: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you wish to register concerns contact The Guardian readers’ editor.
Dear Mr Brady,
Your correspondence to Dale Kirsop and Alan Rusbridger has been passed to me.
The editorially independent roundtable you mention was chaired by a Guardian journalist from my team.
You are correct when you quote our Editor-in-Chief regarding the relationship our journalists have with our readers. Our journalists operate independently of any party, including advertisers and commercial sponsors. Their only remit is to act in the interests of our readers.
However, we do enter into commercial arrangements with companies and other organisations if such arrangements give us the financial support we require to do that independent journalism or, as in the case of the roundtable discussion to which you refer, fund events that shed light on a problem or facilitate debate on an important topic.
In many cases, views taken at a roundtable are in opposition to those of an organisation sponsoring an event. In the case of this sponsored roundtable, we did invite a wide range of people of varied opinions but some chose not to come.
You are most welcome to submit a letter expressing your views which can then be considered for publication by the editor.
With all good wishes,
Head of Editorial
Guardian Professional Networks
Guardian News and Media