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A Public Hearing That Isn't Public

Today starts a two-day FDA public hearing in Washington, DC on biopharma and social media. I decided not to go because talking heads in a meeting room just don't make for good TV. And this is just the first step in what is no doubt going to be a very long, involved policy-making process. But as it turns out, it looks like it might have been futile for me to try to attend anyway.

I'm doing a couple of reports on the event from CNBC HQ in New Jersey. However, because the meeting was expected to be SRO and featuring back-to-back testimony from industry execs, social media experts and more I asked our DC bureau chief to send a camera crew over to the hearing location to "spray the room." That's TV-news lingo for shooting video of the crowd. Then, the bureau would feed the pictures back here and I'd fold them into my on-air reports. Not so fast!

According to our bureau chief, FDA reps told the crew it was not allowed inside the meeting room to take pictures. The camera guy protested, but it didn't do any good. (See update below)

Here's the deal: This is billed as a public hearing. And it's a public hearing on social media. Can you say, "ironic?" And it doesn't end there. I'm being told the building the FDA chose for the hearing doesn't have WiFi. Again, a meeting on social media and there's no WiFi for SM-devotees to do their thing?

Twitter
Twitter

This event is like Woodstock for some SM folks.

They've been blogging and tweeting about it for weeks.

There's even a Web site that went live just for the hearing, but I think it's so overwhelmed this morning it is taking forever to load on my desktop. If you can access it, there's a free FDA-provided live stream from the hearing. And in anticipation of reader feedback about that, the video quality is not up to snuff for broadcast TV. We need to shoot our own stuff.

The issue the FDA is trying to grapple with is, if and how biopharma can promote products on social media? The industry says it needs to be where patients are. But when it takes a full page of fine print in a newspaper and a minute of fast-talking on TV just to disclose the FDA-mandated side-effect information, how will the drugmakers accomplish that in a maximum 140-character tweet? Will the FDA say that a hyperlink within a tweet to the safety info is sufficient? I'm guessing no.

Update: After telling the CNBC camera crew it couldn't shoot the meeting, an NBC newsfeed camera was later allowed inside the meeting room to shoot video. You can see it in my second report on the hearing during "Power Lunch."

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman