Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Curing Cancer with Ribena - Part Two

In August last year I wrote about Ofcom's ruling against the evangelical channel Believe TV for promoting Ribena and an olive-oil soap as cures for cancer and other diseases, including heart disease and ovarian cysts, as well as the soap having the power to 'grow new kidneys'.

Today Ofcom fined The Light Academy Limited, in respect of its service Believe TV, £25,000.

You can read the full Ofcom document here but these are some extracts from it.

Given that the content was also soliciting a response from viewers and such individuals experiencing serious illnesses may be vulnerable to the healing claims being made, Ofcom found there was a material risk that susceptible members of the audience may be exploited by the material broadcast on Believe TV, in breach of Rule 4.6.

The breaches of Rule 4.6 were very serious because the promotions of the Paul Lewis products improperly exploited the susceptibilities of vulnerable viewers of these religious channels.

Ofcom noted for example that there were: no references for the need for people with any potentially serious illness to consult a doctor; nor any advisory text on-screen suggesting to viewers that they should seek medical advice before abandoning prescribed medicines; nor any examples of cases where it was made clear that individuals making “testimonies” of healing had continued or were continuing to receive conventional medical treatment for serious illnesses.

Therefore, Ofcom concluded that some viewers may have reasonably understood that serious medical conditions could be healed through faith healing or healing with special products alone and that conventional medical treatment could be abandoned or not even sought in favour of faith healing or using special products alone. Given that some viewers who may have watched this material may also have been suffering from serious medical conditions, and who were therefore likely to be in a vulnerable state, Ofcom concluded that this material clearly had the potential to cause very serious harm.

The absence of any form of objectively verifiable evidence for the claims made in the broadcast content.

At no time were steps taken by the Licensee to provide adequate protection to members of the public from harm or exploitation, taking into account the fact that the self selecting audience of Believe TV, given that it is a religious service, may have been less likely to question the potentially harmful and exploitative content broadcast.

Ofcom also said that In this instance, there are no direct precedent cases because this is the first case involving faith-based treatment for serious medical conditions.

Although the fine was comparatively small, this case may now set a precedent for future rulings. It also shows that offering cures is not just about freedom to express religious beliefs. This was the defence made by protestors against the ASA ruling on HOTS Bath, an organisation claiming to cure specific diseases (including cancer) through prayer. I wrote about this here.

There is no reason why religion should be exempt from the rules that everyone else has to follow. It's not persecution, it's not censorship, it's not an infringement of human rights. If you make claims to cure medical conditions through non-medical means, you must be able to prove those claims or stop making them.

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