Pharmac hits a new low with incompetent and childish response to media organisation

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New Zealand's controversial medicines purchasing agency has surely hit an outrageous and childish new low with its decision to ban engagement with one media organisation simply for doing its job.

Pharmac has issued a ban on Today FM and all stations in the MediaWorks network because the organisation reported the decision to fund cystic fibrosis therapy TRIKAFTA ahead of the agency's stage-managed announcement on Sunday.

It must go down as one of the most pathetic and incompetent responses to a media organisation doing its job.

In what mental universe is it considered sensible for the chief executive of a government agency to email the CEO of a media organisation to inform them of an engagement ban?

Yet this is exactly what Pharmac CEO Sarah Fitt has done.

It is the clearest evidence possible of an organisation with an inflated sense of itself.

This is the media organisation that has consistently led the entirely legitimate criticism of Pharmac.

According to host Rachel Smalley, Ms Fitt said in the email, “Pharmac will not be providing information, nor interviews, to Today FM, or any other MediaWorks station, until we feel we can trust you again.”

In an opinion piece, Ms Smalley has detailed the events leading to the ban. She describes a media organisation doing its job by obtaining and reporting information before the government agency's stage-managed story release.

Pharmac had not issued a media release or any information under embargo regarding an announcement related to TRIKAFTA. It appears to have been working with a separate media organisation to stage-manage the announcement at 6 pm on Sunday.

As result, it is entirely legitimate and frankly expected that a competing organisation would report the story, particularly where it had been explicitly excluded from the formal announcement.

The situation is made far worse by Pharmac denying the story's veracity when it was reported by Ms Smalley on Friday. In other words, it lied, simply to protect its public relations strategy.

Today FM's Lloyd Burr has called on Pharmac to medicate itself.

"The reason for my diagnosis is because you didn't tell the truth to us on Friday. Not just one of your spin doctors, but three of them," he said.

It has now decided to exact a puerile form of revenge. It looks so stupid. So, so stupid.

Health minister Andrew Little says he will investigate the matter. Clearly, it is not appropriate for a government agency in a democratic country to impose bans on media organisations. Our expectations might differ slightly if we were talking about Venezuela, but we are not.

Many in Australia will grimace in response to Pharmac's actions but they should also use it as an opportunity to reflect.

Is it really that different in Australia?

It is hard to imagine a government official in this country matching Sarah Fitt's hectoring stupidity by emailing a media organisation to announce a retributive ban on engagement. No, it is mostly more subtle in Australia, certainly regarding media. It is less subtle for the patient groups or other organisations that speak to the media or seek to assert their lawful rights.