Scientology Advertises in UK Newspaper “Metro”. Have They Broken the Rules? Watch this Space.

metro imageRecently, an advertisement for Scientology appeared in the pages of a UK ‘Newspaper’ called “Metro“. This is distributed free of charge at busy bus and train stations. It is aimed at stressed commuters, and makes its money from extensive advertising, so it is tabloid in style .

It seems to me that this advertisement clearly contravenes several of the rules laid down by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (e.g.. it is seriously misleading).

You do not have to be a UK citizen to complain to the ASA. You only need to have viewed an advertisement which originated from a UK source – which includes websites.

Complaints can be made online (see below). After you have done so, an investigator will determine if there has been a breach of the rules. If he/she  finds that the rules have been broken, the ASA can require that the advertisement to removed and that similar claims are not made in future. There are additional  sanctions that the organisation if the breach is repeated.

Complainants enjoy absolute anonymity.

In the rest of this post, I describe what I think are good grounds for a complaint regarding the advertisement in “Metro” – and provide all of the information you need to to submit your own via and easy-to-use web form.

You might also like to use Metro’s Facebook and Twitter accounts  express your disapproval. A visibly negative online reaction might discourage Metro from accepting similar advertisements in future.

The Advertisement

Metro sic ad imageThe advertisement in question was published on February the 13th in the print and online edition of Metro UK.  It appears on page 71.

Here are links to saved  copies of the advertisement itself, and the whole edition of the paper which you can download. These files are .pdf documents which are suitable for attaching to the online ASA complaint form as supporting evidence.

The advertisement also appears in a website offering ‘back copies’ of “Metro”, which can be viewed here http://e-edition.metro.co.uk/2015/02/13/  If the ASA was to be made aware of this website, and a complaint was upheld, they might order the advertisement to be revised or removed.

The text reads as follows:

We live in a turbulent world. Each day brings seemingly unending human suffering. From natural disasters to those brought about by mankind’s own hand. And this is in addition to the everyday calamities that fail to make headlines.

Families caught in the turmoil of divorce. Students facing failure in school. People struggling with problems on the job. Loved ones coping with the hopelessness of addiction.

Whatever the misfortune – large or small, natural or personal – there are those, duty bound to answer the call, who have the courage and commitment to go out and do something about it. These are the Scientology Volunteer Ministers. A movement that operates worldwide and linked through a network of groups, they stand as one of the largest independent relief forces on Earth – with the motto: SOMETHING CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT.

Grounds for Complaint

This seems to me that these claims on behalf of Volunteer Ministers violate several  of the points laid down in the CAP code  – the rules which the ASA enforce. This code applies to non-broadcast advertising, sales promotion and direct marketing and includes the following provisions:

3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.

  1. The text of the advertisement speaks of “natural disasters” and claims that “Whatever the misfortune – large or small, natural or personal […] Scientology Volunteer Ministers […] stand as one of the largest independent relief forces on Earth. In conjunction with the background photograph (which shows “Volunteer Ministers” in their yellow T-shirt ‘uniform’ posed in front of a military helicopter that was part of the Haiti relief effort) . This is seriously misleading because it suggests that Volunteer ministers  are directly comparable with international organisations such as the Red Cross.   In actual fact, the ‘relief efforts’ mounted by Volunteer Ministers are modest typically involving only small groups of individuals, with no internationally recognised credentials
  2. Volunteer Ministers typically apply a form of ‘healing hands’ (‘touch assists’, in Scientology parlance) and distribute leaflets (“The Way to Happiness”, a Scientology ‘moral code’). They bring no substantial expertise, supplies or equipment. A reasonable person would likely characterise these activities as religious proselytisation, not disaster relief.

3.3 Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.

The advertisement states that Volunteer Ministers are “a movement that operates worldwide and linked through a network of groups”. This statement  misleadingly inflates the actual number of people engaged in relief efforts  by  including the large number of ‘social betterment’ organisations operated by Scientology which operate in completely different areas.

3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation.

As Volunteer Ministers are small in number and do not perform services that a reasonable person would recognise as disaster relief, I submit that there is consequently serious doubt that objective documentary evidence exists for the claim that Volunteer Ministers […] stand as one of the largest independent relief forces on Earth.

The only acceptable documentary evidence that would support this claim would have to demonstrate the deployment of large numbers of personnel with internationally recognised qualifications in disasters relief and the provision of supplies (e.g. food and shelter) and services (e.g. medical treatment by qualified doctors).

How to Complain

You can submit a complaint via the ASA’s online complaint form.

NB: If, like me, you use an alternative browser (e.g. Firefox or Chrome) switch to Internet Explorer for this occasion – the ASA form fails to submit in Firefox, forcing you to start over.

ASA Investigations typically take a month or more, so be patient. You should, however, receive an acknowledgement by email within a few days.

Finally, please bear in mind that the ASA staff are only concerned with breaches of the detained rules which they administer. It is tempting, but counter-productive to preach to them about the evils of Scientology, however, this is not a protest. It is most effective to stick to the plain facts.

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6 thoughts on “Scientology Advertises in UK Newspaper “Metro”. Have They Broken the Rules? Watch this Space.

    • Thank you.

      You can expect to receive an acknowledgement from the ASA by email within a few days, naming the person who will be investigating your complaint. My previous experience suggests that a full investigation will take at least a month, so be patient (I couldn’t stand the suspense).

      I would appreciate it if you would keep me up to date with the progress of your complaint, either here or by email via the feedback page . Complaints to the ASA seem to be an effective way of countering false or misleading statements made by the Church or Scientology, and I would like to learn as much as possible about other people’s experience so that I can use this blog to organise campaigns against specific abuses in future.

      • Got a reply:

        “Thank you for submitting your complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority.

        We will assess your complaint and we aim to let you know whether we intend to pursue it within ten working days. If we will not be able to reach a decision by that time we will let you know.”

        I know it will take a while, but the way I look at it, all the more time to savour the er, slowly grinding wheels of justice that grind exceedingly fine. Or sumfink.

        I know I am looking forward to The Cult having to provide evidence to back up their claims. Let the squirming begin!

        • My last reply from the ASA read:

          Thank you for submitting your complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority.
          We will assess your complaint and reply in full as soon as possible.

          A decision regarding this complaint (which was against Narconon Scotland) took about a month – quite prompt, considering.

          I am quite concerned that the “New Statesman” complaint turns out well… according to my site stats a lot of people have clicked through to the ASA’s online complaints form, and I would not like to have raised false hopes or wasted their time. I’m squirming a bit, too.

      • Update (24/2/15) :

        Dear Mr Axiom142,

        Your complaint about Church of Scientology International

        Thank you for contacting the Advertising Standards Authority with your concerns about a recent press ad by Church of Scientology.

        We have decided to refer your complaint, along with a number of similar complaints, to our Investigations team for further assessment. One of my colleagues will contact you again in due course with more information.

        Thank you for your patience during this time.

        Kind regards,

        • You complained under a pseudonym… that is brilliant! I didn’t know you could do that.
          A number of people (including myself) received an email from the ASA myself today with identical text.
          It seems we have cleared the first hurdle.

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