25 June 2011, 11:00 to 12:00
Believe TV is a service which broadcasts Christian programming and is located in the religious section of the Sky electronic programme guide. The channel broadcasts programmes which include testimony where members of the churches featured, including the VPA, 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.
A complainant alerted Ofcom to two alleged claims of serious illnesses being cured. These were broadcast on Believe TV on 25 June 2011. The claims were included in a programme which lasted around 20 minutes promoting the work of the church known as the Victorious Pentecostal Assembly (VPA). The claims appeared as onscreen text while images of the pastor of VPA, Alex Omokodu, were shown giving healing to followers at the church. The onscreen text claims referred to by the complainant were shown on the bottom third of the screen in white lettering on a black background: HIV IS HEALED and CANCER IS HEALED.
Ofcom considered rules:
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.
Ofcom Decision: Breach of Rules 2.1 and 4.6
In assessing whether there was a breach of Rule 2.1, Ofcom therefore had to consider whether the claims broadcast could have encouraged viewers to believe that the serious illnesses featured, in particular cancer and HIV, could be cured through the work of the VPA (without orthodox medication). If this were the case, there was a potential for harm because some viewers with serious illnesses – who may therefore be more vulnerable – might have understood on the basis of what they saw on Believe TV that they could be cured by the work of the VPA, and as result either not sought medical advice or stopped following a course of recommended medical treatment. This clearly could be very harmful.
The claims were made in a programme promoting the VPA, and its founder and pastor Alex Omokodu. Around two minutes into the programme it showed images of attendees at the church receiving healing from Pastor Omokudo as a voiceover stated:
Victorious Pentecostal Assembly is a church regularly in communion with the power of the Holy Spirit and has been witness to scores of miraculous testimonies, breakthroughs, healing and what can only be described as divine intervention – a second nature at this mountain of God. This centre of excellence is committed to building up a people of purpose, power and praise, nursing the afflicted to deliverance, the downtrodden are restored to a royal priesthood, from many other afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivered them from them all. And He will do the same for you.
Ofcom noted that as these images were broadcast various graphics were laid over a black segment filling the bottom third of the screen. Each separate graphic was on screen for around 10 seconds. Four of the graphics stated consecutively: THE LAME WALK AGAIN; CANCER IS HEALED; WAS PRONOUNCED DEAD BUT RESTORED AT V.P.A; and HIV IS HEALED.
Taking into account :
- the juxtaposition of the images of healing and the claims contained in the graphics; and
- the voiceover stating that VPA had been witness to scores of miraculous testimonies and healing,
Ofcom considered that viewers would have reasonably understood from the onscreen claims that the healing and testimony at the church could include the curing of HIV and cancer through attendance at the VPA alone.
However before the start of the promotional style programme the following three onscreen graphics were broadcast while the text was read in voiceover:
We advise you to always seek your medical practitioner advise [sic] before making any decision based on this programme.
This statement provided some protection to viewers, by warning them to seek medical advice. But Ofcom noted that:
- these statements were broadcast before the promotional style programme began;
- they were separated from the claims of healing by about two and a half minutes; and
- no warning or information was broadcast immediately before, during or after the four claims for healing highlighted above.
These factors limited the protection afforded to viewers by the statement
Ofcom concluded that, taking all these factors into account, viewers were not provided with adequate protection from harm. Some members of the audience – especially those with serious illnesses – could have been left with the impression that the healing of HIV and cancer could, and would, take place if the viewer attended the church. This was a breach of Rule 2.1.
Ofcom concluded that the broadcaster did not appropriately recognise and mitigate the risk to vulnerable viewers, and that the susceptibilities of members of the audience (some of whom might be experiencing a life threatening illness) were improperly exploited by the claims of healing of cancer and HIV broadcast on Believe TV. This was a breach of Rule 4.6.
Ofcom has recently recorded breaches of Rules 2.1 and 4.6 against the Licensee in relation to the promotion of products as cures for serious illnesses and other medical claims made in various broadcasts between 21 December 2010 and 1 February 20111 . Ofcom regarded these contraventions of the Code as so serious and also repeated that we put the Licensee on notice that it was being considered for the imposition of a statutory sanction.