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Pharmacists accuse Samost of bias

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PHOTO: Panther Media / Scanpix / Z Jan

The Estonian Chamber of Dispensing Chemists and the Estonian Pharmacists’ Union accuse head of public broadcaster ERR’s news portal Anvar Samost of bias and representing the interests of a single chain of drugstores. Samost claims the accusations include elements of slander and constitute an attempt to put pressure on the media.

In a public letter sent to ERR’s ethics advisor titled “Has Anvar Samost been bought by drugstore chains?”, the two associations express indignation over the conduct of head of ERR online Anvar Samost.

The letter has been signed by chairman of the board of the Estonian Chamber of Dispensing Chemists Karin Alamaa-Aas and chairman of the board of the Estonian Pharmacists’ Union Ülle Rebane who refer to Samost’s conduct as “strangely biased”. The organizations feel the bias manifests in “articles and radio programs that deal with the topic of pharmacies’ ownership restrictions. “The impression is created that Samost does not work for ERR but rather as the press representative of the Tamro chain of drugstores. Is this kind of conduct befitting of a leading public broadcasting journalist?” the open letter reads.

“For some reason Samost omits how amendments that introduced the chemists’ ownership requirement where carefully weighed in the Riigikogu and the social ministry and decided in favor of for the purpose of protecting patients as Estonian pharmacies have been increasingly commercialized since the mid-1990s, with health care requirements taking the back seat,” the address states.

“What we have here is a text exhibiting elements of slander the obvious aim of which is to put pressure on journalists to treat a topic from the point of view of the narrow interests of one group,” said Anvar Samost. He added that the letter was not sent to him.

ERR’s journalistic ethics advisor Tarmu Tammerk said the address of the associations does not provide specific examples of breach of journalistic ethics. “Your open letter only includes general criticism that cannot be directly answered. This declarative criticism provides no basis on which to claim the journalist has been bought by anyone,” Tammerk said.

The letter goes on to ask why Samost is keeping from the public the fact that a system of pharmacies owned by dispensing chemists is also in effect in France, Austria, Hungary, but also Estonia’s role models Finland and Germany, as well as that Poland, as the biggest Eastern European country, introduced the chemist’s ownership requirement in June.

“Samost doesn’t care that Tamro’s parent company Phoenix has not threatened its home country of Germany, where only dispensing chemists can run pharmacies, with claims. While such methods seem to be good enough for the “simpletons” in Eastern Europe. It is clear that pharmacy tycoons are afraid of losing market share and income as opposed to being concerned with the well-being of patients,” the letter explains.

The associations also write how the big players of the Estonian pharmacy market Tamro and Magnum tried to contest the ownership restrictions in the European Commission that rejected their case in spring.

“The reason for the decision is simple: the system of chemists’ pharmacies has proved itself in Europe and protects the interests of patients. We do not believe obtaining this information would be difficult for Samost; rather we are dealing with selective communication of information,” the letter reads.

“Investments must be protected in Estonia; however, dispensing chemists do not want to get the pharmacies owned by wholesalers for free. We are prepared to pay fair price; even so, no wholesaler has been willing to sell its pharmacies despite frequent interest. The state has also provided a five-year transitional period so businessmen can collect returns on their investments,” the document says.

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