'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

A row I've been trying to stay out of. And failed.

There's been a lot of debate over recent days about Tim Farron signing the 'Christians in Parliament' letter to the ASA, asking them to overturn the ban on Christian advertising promoting Faith Healing.

There has been an excellent defence on LDV from Stephen Tall, and an  equally good reply on LDV from David Parkes

With all due respect to both these views, I think they have missed one crucial factor out of the debate (which I've also not seen anywhere else): fairness.

Much of the debate has been contrasting the treatment of the Christian advertising - which has been banned on the basis that they cannot scientifically prove their claims, as they are based on Faith - with that of pharmaceutical advertising, which can be proved. I would contend this is the wrong comparison.

The ASA needs to be seen to be even handed (I know something about this having worked in advertising for twenty plus years). The two groups the ASA will be keen to treat equally are not 'Christinas' vs. 'Scientists". It is 'Christians' vs. Aethiests.

The ASA has a strong track record on treating both these sides equally.

In 2009, the sixth most complained ad in the UK was this, from the British Humanist Association

Interestingly, the most complained about ad in that year was this one, from the Christian Party

In both cases, the ASA ruled that that they would not adjudicate about the advertising, because (according to The Telegraph):

"The ASA did not investigate the advert - a response to a British Humanist Association (BHA) poster reading: ''There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life'' - because political party campaigns are outside its remit.

The ASA also did not investigate the BHA ad, which was the sixth most complained-about campaign with 392 objections, concluding that it was an expression of the advertiser's opinion and not capable of being objectively substantiated."
On this basis, the ASA ruling on the Faith Healing ad will be based on the fact that this is not a political ad, but instead is promoting the claims of a specific service or product, which cannot be substantiated.
The argument that a pharmeutical company can prove its claim whereas the Christian organisation cannot is therefore a false comparrison. The unfairness will arise if an organisation such as the BHA tries to run an advert saying that Faith healing does not work - and the ASA allows it. That indeed would be double standards.
Meantime, I suspect that the Christians in Parliament campaign has succeeded in generating far more publicity and conversation about the merits of Faith Healing than the original campaign ever would have. So their appeal has, in that sense, already worked.
I should make it clear here that I am not promoting one side or the other in this debate. I am merely pointing out that nothing the ASA has yet done has been treating one side differently to the other.


  1. Interesting piece.
    You have a point that its Christians vs Athiests in fact Spidey was starting to make that point after she blocked me.

    I think that is a good measure of fairness but then again so is the point Stephen & David were making. I don't think its so much Christians vs Scientists because there are some scientists who are Christians.

    Its the fact that in medicine and the pharmaceutical industry, you have to be able to prove your claims so that the public isn't misled.

    I could package vitamin C and/or D into tablets and start selling them falsely as cures for cold, headaches etc. As long as the patient believes it will do what it says on the packaging it will work. Yet if I did it ASA and no doubt many other trading organisations would have me shut down fairly quickly for selling a placebo.

    That is what faith healing is, a very nice placebo, it is a belief that because you pray to some divine being that he can and will cure you.

    We don't allow placebos in the medical industry so why would we allow a religion to advocate it.

  2. Ah yes, I'm not being clear I suspect. I think the ASA were quite right to ban the ad, under their rules. You can't make a claim you can't substantiate. I just hope that if anyone runs an ad saying unequivocally that faith healing DOESN'T work, then it is banned for exactly the same reasons