5 May 2009 - Fitness Life magazine has been exonerated by the Advertising Standards Authority following a Government complaint about a billboard promoting an article on the Gardasil vaccine in its March issue.
Dr Greg Simmons, the Ministry of Health's Chief Advisor for Population Health, complained to the ASA over the central Auckland billboard promoting the article which questions the Ministry's all-positive stance on the new vaccine.
However, this week, all four points raised by the Ministry, regarding both the article and billboard, were thrown out by the ASA, following the magazine's rigorous defence of the quality of its research and its socially important role as a forum for information and debate.
"Any democratic society has the right to fully debate both sides of issues relating to public health," said Tania Greig, publisher of Fitness Life magazine.
"However, almost all of the media coverage and certainly the mass-marketing and advertising campaign for the Gardasil vaccination programme - has focused only on the positive angle promoted by the MOH and the drug's manufacturer."
Greig says research conducted by the article's author Lynda Wharton found Gardasil is under investigation regarding unacceptable side affects in overseas markets where it is already being used."
On these grounds, we felt some visible public inquiry around the potential long-term effects of this vaccination programme was justified, said Greig.
"As New Zealand's leading health and fitness magazine, we believe it is our moral duty to raise any such international concerns with the public and stimulate an open discussion."
The MOH initially asked Fitness Life to remove the advertisement, which was refused, before complaining to the ASA that the billboard and article were "misleading, deceptive and irresponsible". "We are delighted the ASA has backed our stance on this," said Greig.
"We believe, after due research on behalf of the journalist who wrote the story, that there is more to the Gardasil issue than is represented by the Ministry's advertisements, and that the public should be aware of this.
"In fact, we believe it would be deceptive and irresponsible to only talk Gardasil up, regardless of evidence of possible side-effects.
"The advertisement and article were commissioned with a keen sense of social responsibility and with the hope that, by asking entirely valid questions, we are opening the floor to fresh debate on an issue that is of great importance to families and their daughters.
"To date there has been no such public discussion of the possible side effects of this very new drug, which was fast-tracked through the FDA, just as Vioxx was.
"We sincerely hope that our feature and billboard stimulates such debate and ultimately helps provide the answers the public expects and deserves."