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    TV Channel Fined for Airing Unqualified Medical Advice

    Burn rajma for dental problems, avoid salt to cure infertility. Those are a few health tips aired on news channels.

    The United Kingdom’s communications regulator, Ofcom, has done something that regulators in India should have done a long time ago: curtail and fine television channels that promote “unsubstantiated and unqualified medical advice”.

    It was reported last week that Ofcom fined Zee Network £25,000 (about Rs 25 lakh) for the contents of a show called Yoga For You on its channel, Lamhe.

    The show had presenter Dr.Pankaj Naram make pronouncements of curing over 75,000 cancer patients. A November-2014 Ofcom report details the reasons for holding Yoga for You in breach.

    “We identified a number of claims by Dr Naram in the programme that certain alternative remedies (herbal and ayurveda) could cure, successfully treat or prevent serious medical conditions such as cancer and hernias.”
    Some of these remedies were “11 holy basil leaves and three black peppers to prevent cancer” and “half a tablespoon of cumin powder, half a tablespoon of coriander powder and 11 black raisins to treat hernias”.

    Dr Naram, according to his website, is an authority in ancient “Siddha-Veda” practice. He lists on his websites secrets to healthy joints, back, lungs, throat, children, sound sleep, immunity and so on. He also claimed to have grown a uterus in a woman with herbal and home remedies, among other things.

    While Zee apologised for the oversight, it also clarified that the channel does not run the show in India.

    Which is true, but then there are shows like Manthan on Zee News that give you expert health advice such as which temples in India to visit to cure diseases.

    That’s right. The show actually informs viewers of a temple in Uttar Pradesh and an ashram in Madhya Pradesh that can cure everything from leprosy to polio to cancer. Rub a little ash, take a round around the temple and we’re done. (The episode raises the question if this is devotion or superstition, looks into none of the aspects and instead drives home the point that the temples cure all medical problems.)

    Manthan has other episodes that tell you what kind of food intake can influence your behaviour based on instances from the Mahabharat, how you can avoid lifestyle diseases by following the Gita, and so on. Zee News’ website has a section called Ayurveda under the health category that has articles like Signs of Unhealthy Body, which includes baldness and marks on face.

    Some other major Hindi news channels show segments on astrology and other occult, which also give health tips. On Aaj Tak, astrologer Rajkumar Shastri asks you to not have salt and donatechana gram, kesarand jaggery, among other things, to cure infertility. Doing so, he says, would yield guaranteed results.

    India TV too has its team of “acharyas” on Aaja Goodluck Nikale that give health tips according to zodiac signs. Geminis, for example, are asked to burn red lentils with camphor to cure dental (any and all, we presume) problems. Geminis are also instructed not to keep Rs 10 notes in their locker because that could increase dental problems.

    And then, of course, there are shows like Yes I Can Change that find slots on a host of TV channels, including India TVand Sony. The show is presented by Pandit GD Vashist. Much like Dr Naram, shows featuring Vashist have testimonies of people claiming miraculous respite from their medical conditions despite the doctors having given up.

    News Broadcasters Association’s code of ethics and broadcasting standards is based on 11 principles of self-regulation. The eighth principle is “refraining from advocating or encouraging superstition and occultism”. The code of ethics clearly states that, “News channels will not broadcast any material that glorifies superstition and occultism in any manner.”

    But as the above cases show, this is hardly true in practice. Channels have been getting away with this for some time now. Will the Ofcom ruling make them change their ways? It seems unlikely since the ruling only applies to the UK. The broader question pertains to self-regulation, a model that we have been following in India. Clearly, it has not worked and the inability to check such deceptive programming makes a pretty good case for an ombudsman with more powers.

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