Canadian Medical Association

What is editorial independence?

As outlined in the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) guidance on the relationship between medical journals and their owners, an editor-in-chief (EiC) should have full authority over the editorial content of the journal for which they are responsible and over when that content is published. This is generally referred to as “editorial independence.” WAME asserts that journal owners should not interfere in the commissioning, evaluation, selection or editing of journal content, either directly or by creating an environment in which editorial decisions are strongly influenced. The owner of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) is CMA Impact Inc. (“CMA Impact”), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Content published in CMAJ includes original research; scholarly opinion articles, such as editorials, commentaries, analyses and letters to the editor; practice articles and narrative reviews; news; and humanities articles. The journal also publishes a podcast and blog, and develops social media content to enhance articles.

Who is responsible for maintaining the editorial independence of CMAJ?

The CMA’s commitment to CMAJ’s editorial independence is supported and governed by the CMAJ Governance Council (GC), which meets quarterly and reports to the CMA Impact Board.

In 2016, a special task force on CMAJ consulted with CMA members and other stakeholders and proposed the development of a CMAJ GC to steward and promote the overall well-being and integrity of CMAJ, including upholding its editorial independence and ensuring the journal’s strategy and business objectives are aligned with the Journal’s mission, vision and values. The CMAJ GC was created in 2017, and its membership must include a peer editor, a practising clinician, an academic physician, a scholarly publishing expert with financial expertise and a representative from each of the CMA board, the CMA Impact board and the CMAJ Editorial Advisory Board. The CMAJ EiC, publisher, and a CMA Enterprise management delegate also participate as ex officio members.

According to its terms of reference, the CMAJ GC plays a role in the hiring and ongoing evaluation of the EiC, and the council must be consulted if management wishes to dismiss the EiC. If the EiC is concerned that editorial independence is being threatened, they may, at any time, “raise editorial independence disputes (i) to the CMAJ GC or (ii) for exceptional matters, as the editor-in-chief may determine, directly to the CMA Board of Directors.”The EiC and publisher submit reports to the CMAJ GC, in which they indicate whether they have concerns about editorial independence.

Has the CMAJ GC raised any concerns since its inception?

In early 2022, the CMAJ GC expressed concern to CMA's chief executive and board chair regarding a change in organizational structure that has the CMAJ Group reporting to the CMA's Executive Vice President of Communications. The GC emphasized that the journal reporting into the owner’s marketing and communications function is not standard reporting for scholarly journal publishing and may have the potential to threaten editorial independence in future. This resulted in a careful review of safeguards of editorial independence, embedded processes to educate CMA staff and boards about editorial independence, discussions with the GC, and the drafting of this public-facing explainer.

Can the CMA or CMA Impact tell CMAJ's editor-in-Chief what to publish?

Neither the CMA nor CMA Impact may request or influence CMAJ content. CMA affiliates who wish to submit an article to CMAJ must follow the same process as all prospective authors: they may submit an article via the CMAJ submission portal or email a CMAJ editor with a pre-submission enquiry describing their proposed article. CMAJ editors consider submissions on their own merit and without reference to CMA advocacy or policy work. CMAJ articles may from time to time take a position that contradicts that of the CMA or that may be critical of a CMA position or policy.

Can the CMA or CMA Impact request that CMAJ delay publication of an article?

As outlined in the WAME guidance, decisions regarding the timing of publication rest solely with the EiC of CMAJ. The EiC does not consult with CMA management before publishing any content. The CMA, CMA Impact, management or board members do not see articles before they are published. In rare circumstances, if a published article is likely to prompt media to ask the CMA for a response, the CMAJ EiC may, as a courtesy, provide the CMA with a copy 24 hours ahead of fixed publication.

Can the CMA or CMA Impact require a CMAJ article to be retracted or removed after publication?

The CMA or CMA Impact cannot ask the publisher of CMAJ Group to retract or remove an article and cannot instruct the EiC of CMAJ to take either of these actions.

Removal of a scientific article from the scientific literature and online databases after publication is extremely rare. Retracted articles remain indexed in online databases and are linked with the published retraction notices. The decision of whether to retract or remove a CMAJ article follows editorial community standards and rests entirely with the journal’s EiC, who collaborates with the journal’s publisher to take the necessary steps.

The CMA recently changed the reporting structure of the CMAJ Group. Will this affect the editorial independence of CMAJ?

The CMAJ Group is now part of CMA Impact and reports to the Executive Vice-President, Communications. This change does not alter the commitment of the CMA and CMA Impact to uphold the editorial independence of CMAJ. The Executive Vice-President, Communications, is an ex officio member of the CMAJ GC, alongside the EiC of CMAJ and the publisher of CMAJ Group. The CMAJ EiC remains editorially independent and has the right to raise editorial independence disputes with the CMAJ GC or, in exceptional cases, directly with the CMA Board of Directors.

How does editorial independence relate to advertising in CMAJ?

The CMAJ Group publisher is accountable for advertising in all CMAJ Group publications, including CMAJ. The publisher is guided by CMA advertising policy. The CMAJ Group publisher and CMAJ EiC may decide together to avoid types of advertising allowed by the CMA policy if either considers that such advertisements may compromise the reputation of the CMAJ Group or erode CMAJ’s editorial independence. The CMAJ Group publisher, not the EiC of CMAJ, oversees the process of advertising sales; however, the EiC reviews the final versions of print and digital products and may object to the placement of advertisements within these if the placement could suggest that editorial content is being sponsored. 

If readers or authors have concerns about editorial independence, whom can they contact ? 

Readers can raise concerns or questions about editorial independence by regular channels of communication with the journal (e.g., letters to the editor) or by correspondence with the publisher or the CMAJ GC.


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