21 and 22 December 2010, 4 January 2011 and 1 February 2011
Believe TV is a service which broadcasts Christian programming. The channel broadcasts programmes which include testimony, where members of the churches featured proclaim how health problems, financial issues or other personal matters have been alleviated through healing from a pastor or other religious leader and their faith in God. Believe TV also features other Christian programming including preaching and healing from churches in the UK and around the world.
The licence for Believe TV is held by The Light Academy Limited.
In January 2011 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) informed Ofcom that it had written to the Licensee regarding the broadcast on Believe TV of two programmes, featuring the televangelist. Paul Lewis, on 21 and 22 December 2010. Both programmes featured Paul Lewis’s Miracle Olive Oil Soap. which it was claimed has healing properties that can cure serious illnesses such as cancer.
The ASA informed Light Academy that these broadcasts contained similar claims by Paul Lewis to those which had already been the subject of an ASA adjudication in May 2007. Further, the ASA advised the Licensee that Ofcom had also previously recorded breaches of the Broadcasting Code in relation to content containing similar claims by Paul Lewis that had been transmitted by two other broadcasters in 2008.
In response to the ASA, the Light Academy confirmed that Paul Lewis Ministries content had now been removed from its schedules as of 24 December 2010 onwards, and that in any event the content was editorial and not advertising.
The ASA therefore referred the material to Ofcom for further investigation, as well as further material broadcast on Believe TV (not featuring Paul Lewis) the ASA had recorded on 4 January 2011.
Ofcom reviewed this material and agreed that the content being investigated in this case should be regarded as editorial and not advertising and therefore that the Code applied. Separately Ofcom was also concerned that other material broadcast on Believe TV, on these three dates, contained examples of potentially unsubstantiated and dangerous claims about the healing of serious conditions such as infertility and cancer.
Ofcom considered that such material raised potentially serious issues under the Code. In particular, Ofcom was concerned about the risk that as a result of watching the testimonies and preaching, viewers with serious medical conditions would either not seek or discontinue conventional medical treatment.
Ofcom also notified the Licensee of its concerns about the apparent promotion of products such as CDs and DVDs in some of its programming.
Ofcom noted further broadcast content which raised similar issues, for example:
- hCancer healing testimonies and claims.
- Members of the congregation claiming to give up their medication as a result of the receiving healing at the church.
- Members of the congregation claiming to have disregarded conventional medical advice and treatment in favour of healing at the church.
- Infertility healing testimonies and claims.
- Claims of healing of other serious medical illnesses, for example: blood pressure problems, heart disease and drug and alcohol addictions.
- Rule 2.1: Generally accepted standards must be applied to the contents of television and radio services so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion in such services of harmful and/or offensive material.
- Rule 4.6: Religious programmes must not improperly exploit any susceptibilities of the audience.
- Rule 10.2: Broadcasters must ensure that the advertising and programme elements of a service are kept separate.
- Rule 10.3: Products and services must not be promoted in programmes. This rule does not apply to programme-related material.
Ofcom Decision: In Breach
Given that some viewers who may have watched this material may also have been suffering from serious medical conditions, and were therefore likely to be in a vulnerable state, Ofcom also concluded that this material clearly had the potential to cause harm, and possibly very serious harm. In view of the fact that the Licensee did not take steps to provide viewers with adequate protection from this potential harm by providing any context to the claims made, Ofcom concluded that the Licensee did not apply generally accepted standards. Rule 2.1 was therefore breached.
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 concluded that there was a material risk that susceptible members of the audience may be exploited by the material broadcast on Believe TV. This was a breach of Rule 4.6.
Ofcom also considered that the references to the products were made in such a highly promotional manner that they appeared akin to advertising within a programme. Ofcom therefore also found the programmes in breach of Rule 10.2 and 10.3 of the Code.
The Licensee broadcast material where there was a likelihood that significant potential harm may have resulted. It is Ofcom’s view that any material broadcast which may lead to a material risk to the health and safety of the audience must always be considered a significant breach of the Code.
In deciding what further regulatory action to take in this case. Ofcom considered that 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.
The Licensee is put on notice that the breaches of Rules 2.1 and 4.6 in this case are being considered for the imposition of a statutory sanction.