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Bayer Loses Attempt to Silence Critics of Birth Control Pill Yaz

A Swiss appeals court has knocked back an attempt by contraceptive maker Bayer (BAYRY) to chill critics of its birth control pill Yaz. There have been at least eight recent attempts to silence critics of healthcare businesses through legal action, often in Europe where laws don't always guarantee freedom of speech.

Swiss Television reported last year that there were about 190 deaths associated with Yaz and Yasmin in the FDA's adverse events database. The database is a grab bag of confirmed and unconfirmed drug reports and thus not always an accurate indicator of a drug's problems. Nonetheless, it's where researchers start when looking into problems caused by drugs once they're on the market.

Bayer took Swiss TV to court, alleging the report was "manipulative" and that it breached the broadcaster's "statutory requirement of factual accuracy." Bayer lost a ruling in a lower court and earlier this month lost an appeal to a Swiss federal court. The court said that although the report contained critical viewpoints they were were correctly identified as such.

The litigation is part of a wave of actions brought by pharmaceutical companies who don't want to hear scientists, journalists or activists saying bad things about their products. Other examples include:

The good news is that the judicial tide appears to be turning against drug companies, even in the European courts. For years, companies have used litigation in Europe and the U.K. to bring defamation-type actions against their critics.

In European libel cases, the defendant is frequently liable until proven not so -- the opposite of the law in the U.S. Although truth is a complete defense, cases can be expensive and juries can be fickle, and critics often buckle before trial. Recently, European judges appear to have realized that their courts have been used by "libel tourists" who don't really have legitimate complaints against their critics. They just don't want to be criticized.

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Image by Flickr user katietegmeyer, CC.