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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Healing Controversy Continues


You may recall that my church is having something of a disagreement with the ASA over a newsletter we distributed in our neighbourhood that focused on healing (you can read the original posts with links here and here).

Well things have gone a little bit further since then. The ASA sent us a proforma which goes a bit further than the action they requested here. The proforma of compliance is as follows:

"ASSURANCE OF COMPLIANCE WITH ASA ADJUDICATION

This is an assurance that the advertising that was the subject of ASA investigation reference No. A08-59227 will no longer appear in its original form. The claims investigated and found to breach the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing, and similar claims that are likely to breach the Code, will not appear in our future marketing communications. We will ensure future circulars do not contain references to the treatment or cure of medical conditions."


The part we have a particular issue with is in the last two sentences. No future claims about healing, no reference to the cure of medical conditions. Unsurprisingly, this was something we couldn't agree with.

The ASA only allow appeals if there is a flawed procedure or new evidence comes to light, yet they have never asked us to verify the claims of healing which we made and which we are happy to do. The issue has never been whether the healings are true but whether we can tell anyone and invite people to see for themselves. They don't allow appeals on the grounds that we disagree with their decision and that they might be wrong. So we didn't appeal. Didn't seem to be a point.


That leaves only two options compliance or non-compliance. We took the second option. As a result I received an email from their compliance team, asking us again to comply. We refused. We said:
"Thank you for your email, however we are not able to comply with your request at this time for the following reasons. We disagree with the judgement of the ASA with regard to our printed invitation, but the ASA do not allow appeals against their decision on this basis. With its present wording we're unable to sign the proforma as we feel it restricts both our freedom of speech and freedom of religion, specifically around the possibility of God healing, and have advice that supports this view. We'd be happy to talk with the ASA to jointly work on a proforma that does neither of those things but that upholds high standards in advertising, which we fully support."
The following day I receive another letter an extract of which says,
"The ASA council did not accept your argument that the circular was merely an invitation to seek God in prayer for medical problems because the wording of the ad implied that the conditions were treated as a direct result of prayer.
This specific point is covered by Code clauses 2.2 and 50.3 which states:
2.2.1 All marketing communications should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
50.3 Marketers should not discourage essential treatment. They should not offer specific advice on, diagnosis of or treatment for serious or prolonged conditions unless it is conducted under the supervision of a doctor or other suitably qualified health professional (e.g. one subject to regulation by a statutory or recognised medical or health professional body). Accurate and responsible general information about such conditions may, however, be offered."
They asked again for us to comply. I think that is unlikely. The point of contention has been made clearer by the sentence "because the wording of the ad implied that the conditions were treated as a direct result of prayer." Well, at least they understood what we were saying, that is what we were implying.

So what do you think?

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2 comments:

Peter Kirk on 3 September 2008 at 22:12 said...

My advice is, stick to your guns. Does this watchdog have any teeth? They can certainly only enforce anything through the courts. The courts will be bound to take into account your freedom of speech and freedom of religion points, and to reject as unreasonable the requirement that you undertake not to refer to healing at all in future.

Blue, with a hint of amber on 4 September 2008 at 16:41 said...

the wording of the ad implied that the conditions were treated as a direct result of prayer

Bingo!

Hang in there Phil. There will be a way through. At the moment it is just "We are scary so we can bully you" tactics.

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