New skeptical society in New Zealand succeeds in advertising complaint

A New Zealand skeptical activism group succeeds at getting a faith healing claim chastised and the advertisement removed. It may not be the most dramatic way to do activism but the law is the law, these claims were seen to be misleading. Your belief that God heals has no evidence to back it up, so you can not actually make that health claim.

Controversial church told to take down prayer ad – National – NZ Herald News.

A church which advertised that a prayer session could heal health problems including “incurable diseases” has been told to remove the advertisement.

A complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority was made about a brochure from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which was circulated publicly and contained a timetable of healing sessions.

It read: “For people who suffer with constant pain, deteriorating health, can’t work due to illness, incurable disease, doctors don’t know what’s wrong, dependent on pills, recovering from injury, weight problems, sick children.”

The complainant, Mark Hanna, from the Society for Science Based Healthcare, said there was no evidence that any of those health issues could be alleviated through prayer.

“As such, these claims are in violation of the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code Principle 2, and fail to uphold the high standard of social responsibility required by the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code Principle 3,” his complaint read.

The church was a bit too emphatic about the claims, stated them more as fact than opinion. It is not fact that prayer heals and it suggests that people forego conventional treatment.

Hanna’s group is made up of volunteers keen on skeptical activism. It’s brand new, launched just this month. Way to get some good PR! Nice job.

They have also made complaints about false advertising regarding amber teething beads and detox foot patches. The Society hopes that advertisers get the message and “refrain from making misleading health claims in the future.”

Even small groups of dedicated individuals can make a big difference. Other “truth in health claims” societies include the Society of Science-based Medicine the US, Bad Science Watch in Canada, Sense about Science (U.K.) and two notable rather specifically targeted skeptical groups, Skeptics For the Protection of Cancer Patients and Stop AVN

(I’m sure I missed some. List them in comments)

Here are some additional stories about faith healing claims smacked down by advertising standards authorities. Sadly, none are from the U.S. (I looked for cases regarding faith healing claims with the Federal Trade Commission. None. I don’t ever recall any. Why is that?)

Advertising standards authority unconvinced by “seventh son of seventh son” healer folklore

Televangelist’s claims of a miracle healing soap violates advertising code

U.K. church claims olive oil drink is miracle cure for cancer, HIV and diabetes

Which medical text prescribes Jesus as a cancer cure?


  8 comments for “New skeptical society in New Zealand succeeds in advertising complaint

  1. Bill T.
    June 27, 2014 at 1:54 PM

    Are N. Z.’s guarantees of freedom of religion analgous to those in the U. S? Any Kiwis out there that can illuminate this?

  2. June 27, 2014 at 5:54 PM

    Thanks Sharon 🙂

    One small correction to make is that this wasn’t actually a legal ruling. The ASA is part of the New Zealand advertising industry’s process of self-regulation, and they don’t have any legal power. When they uphold a complaint, advertisers are requested to *voluntarily* remove their advertisement. Reputable advertisers such as newspapers and TV channels will always comply with this, but self-publishing advertisers often won’t.

    There have been some issues in the past, particularly with advertisers of amber teething necklaces refusing to remove misleading claims after having complaints upheld against them, e.g. e.g. That particular complaint wasn’t mine, but I’ve had a previous complaint upheld against the same advertiser for the same reason ( and the other 20 or so complaints against similar advertisements mentioned in that article were also from me.

    There’s recently been a change to New Zealand’s Fair Trading Act that makes “unsubstantiated representations in trade” illegal. We at the Society for Science Based Healthcare are hoping that the Commerce Commission, who enforces that act, will now take some legal action against the advertisers who have been refusing to remove their misleading health claims.

  3. June 27, 2014 at 6:07 PM

    New Zealand is still part of the Commonwealth, which means that Queen Elizabeth is our head of state, and she’s also the head of the Church of England and “Defender of the Faith”. I believe the meetings of our parliament still start with a Christian prayer, but for all intents and purposes New Zealand is a secular country with freedom of religion. As of our last (and fairly recent) census, about 40% of kiwis reported that they have no religion.

  4. June 27, 2014 at 6:11 PM

    Another “truth in health claims” group is Friends of Science in Medicine, based in Australia:

  5. June 27, 2014 at 6:16 PM

    On the topic of the ASA having no legal authority, it’s probably also worth mentioning that a lot of people, including many advertisers, don’t understand this regulatory framework and think that the ASA is a government agency with statutory authority.

  6. June 29, 2014 at 5:22 PM

    Another thing that would be worth pointing out is that while the ASA may be toothless many of the larger advertisers that contribute to the funding of the Authority are also major outlets that others advertise through. As I understand it these companies will also refuse to take adverts from people that don’t comply with ASA rulings. So, while the ASA may not be able to force advertisers to comply, there is the potential for consequences of not complying.

  7. June 29, 2014 at 6:34 PM

    I’m not aware of any cases of that happening though, and the fact the ASA (unlike the ASA in the UK) doesn’t maintain a list of non-compliant advertisers makes it hard for advertisers to do that.

    For example, Biomag (for non kiwis, they’re a fairly notorious advertiser of magnetic mattress underlays) has refused to comply with multiple upheld ASA complaints in the past but because that hasn’t been documented (although I submitted a complaint last night that brings it up) I don’t believe large advertisers such as TVNZ, which is bound to comply with the ASA’s requests, have stopped broadcasting their advertisements as a result.

  8. Bill T.
    June 30, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    Thanks Mark, appreciate your reply. I was aware of the king or queen being the head of the CoE, I learned something new in that the monarch is the head of state of the Commonwealth countries, a question I hadn’t thought to ask.

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