How to Complain about the Scientology Advertisement in The “New Statesman”

New Statesman In my last post I described an advertisement for Scientology based on its supposed ‘disaster relief’ activities, and suggested that it was so misleading it broke the rules enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority.

This advertisement appeared in a free (ad-supported) ‘newspaper called “Metro” and I had hoped that nobody else would lower themselves. I was wrong.

It seems it is also appearing in “New Statesman”, a respectable political magazine.

After the break there is a detailed, step-by-step illustrated guide to how to complain to the UK Advertising Standards Authority via an easy-to-use online form about this advertisement.

You do not have to be a resident of the UK to do this. Metro sic ad imageThe advertisement in question is on the right .

The full text and a high-definition image of this advertisement is included in my previous post, along with good grounds for complaint – i.e. that the combination of text and image are misleading, suggesting that the ‘Volunteer Ministers’ operate as a  major relief organisation, when they are actually few in number, unqualified, provide no supplies, expertise or medical services.

This post will show you how to complain (from anywhere in the world) about this advertisement. Your identity will be absolutely confidential.

Step One of Five

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.

Go to the first page of the Advertising Standard Authority’s online complaints page at
http://asa.org.uk/Consumers/How-to-complain/Online-Form/Step1.aspx

At the bottom of the page you will see this form.

ASA 1of5Select ‘Are you complaining as a member of the public?’ and click the ‘Next’ button

Step Two of Five

ASA 2a of 5If you are a UK resident, simply enter your Postcode, and click on ‘Find your address’. If you are not, select that option and the form will adapt to enable you to manually enter a  postal address (only one line is required).

Don’t forget to enter an email address – this will be the only means the ASA have to contact you.

In the ‘Data Protection’ section, tick the last box, and leave the others alone. Then, nobody will contact you or offer information that is not directly concerned with your complaint.ASA 2b of 5Choose an option. For those outside the UK, this would probably be the default, ‘ I was already aware of the ASA’

ASA 3 of 5For the “New Statesman” select ‘Press’. A new text box called ‘Sub Type’ will then appear. Select ‘National Press, Regional Press and Magazines’.

Select ‘I do have a copy’ and an option to upload an image appears.

 

ASA 3b

There is an image of the advertisement that you can download here. Download it to your computer, then attach it your form by clicking the first ‘Browse’ button and navigating to the file. When you have selected a file, don’t forget to click the  ‘upload’ button before moving on.

 

ASA 4 of 5

First Text Box (‘Where did you see/hear the advert?’)

In a copy of the “New Statesman’ for  13-19 February 2015 – Cover headline “Assad vs Isis.

Second Text Box (‘When did you see/hear the advert?’)

Enter a time – obviously after the 13th of February 2015

Third Text box (‘Who was the Advertiser?’)

Church of Scientology

Forth Text box (What was the brand?’)

Church of Scientology

Click the ‘Next’ button.

5 of 5

I strongly suggest that you stick to the facts, citing exactly which rules have been broken and why. Telling the ASA that Scientology is a bad thing is pointless. They can only take action according to their rules, so please keep it simple and don’t preach.

If you are not familiar with the rules, you can copy and paste  the text between the lines directly below in to the ‘Description of Complaint’ box.

 


I believe that this advertisement is in breach of rules 3.1, 3.3 and 3.7 of the CAP code for the following reasons:

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


 

That’s it. Click on ‘Submit your complaint’ – and good luck.

You might also like to comment on the New Statesman Facebook and Twitter accounts, or write to their deputy editor, Helen Lewis at helen@newstatesman.co.uk

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17 thoughts on “How to Complain about the Scientology Advertisement in The “New Statesman”

    • You’re most welcome. You should get an acknowledgement email within a few days, and a ruling after about a month (perhaps it will come at the same time as “Going Clear” is broadcast). Please tell us what happens.

        • Excellent! I have made three previous complaints – two about Narconon, and one about the “Metro” advertisement. Acknowledgement took between 3 and 5 working days (the more I submitted the faster the replies came). Your rapid reply suggests that the ASA is already into a preliminary investigation designed to assess if this case needs closer examination.

          The ASA is required to investigate any complaints in which the complainant presents reasonable evidence that their rules have been broken. However, I am hoping that the fact that they have received several complaints on this issue with motivate them to give it a higher priority.

          I’m hoping this foray is successful for its own sake, but also because this approach could provide a corrective to the threatened expansion of Narconon in the UK. The ASA is very hard indeed on false medical claims (especially those which may impact vulnerable people) and have already investigated most of the dangerous claims made by those quacks when they looked in to Narconon Scotland https://scicrit.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/narconon-in-the-uk-part-three-the-advertising-standards-authority-takes-an-interest-in-narconon-scotland/ . The complaint I used in that case could form the basis of many more.

          If people can be persuaded to inform me about Narconon ads in the UK and complain about them, I can provide a suggested complaint in a quick post. We may not be able to bring Narconon down, but we can certainly limit their freedom of action and, if they play whack-a-mole with adverts, perhaps even get them publicly censured.

          I really hope all this effort turns out well and hope you will join the team in future, if it does.

    • Unfortunately, a lot of UK Websites made for government and statutory regulators only work properly with Internet Explorer (and, even then, get eccentric with older versions). I have found to my cost that if you use Mozilla Firefox, the form refuses to submit.

      Thanks for the effort!

    • Thank you for your complaint (and it’s not often you get to say that). Although all complaints are investigated by the ASA, international interest may drive this case up their list of priorities – and motivate a more careful investigation.

      Today, there has been another advertisement (concerning CofS ‘human rights’ front groups) in the free newspaper “Metro” following this one for ‘Volunteer Ministers’ but not in “New Statesman”.

  1. I noticed another full-page Scientology ad in yesterday’s Metro too. This one focussed on the organisation’s ‘contributions’ to international human rights and stated that the Church was assisting hundreds/thousands of people in getting the right to free trial. I suspect this ad may also be another example of misrepresentation suitable for complaining to the ASA about, but I’m having trouble tracking down figures for how much the organization actually contributes to legal aid and whether or not the “aid” is similar to what is described above i.e. promoting their religion as opposed to offering skills or resources that are of actual use to anyone. Can you advise on where I might find information on the Church’s spending (is it even openly available?), or how I might go about putting together a well-founded complaint for the ASA specific to this second ad in addition to the first.

    • ‘Church’ finances are a closely guarded secret (uniquely so, after the obtained their ‘special deal’ with the IRS). However, I think it is safe to proceed on the grounds that Scientology front groups are just that – false fronts, which do no substantial work.

      To take an example from the previous ad about ‘volunteer ministers’ – they present themselves in the text as comparable to the Red Cross. However, all they actually do is send a few individuals to administer ‘touch assists’, hand out leaflets, and get some photographs for PR purposes (such as the one in the “Metro” ad). They also have a ‘secret mission’ to keep people out the hands of ‘psychs’ (which includes psychiatrists, psychologists and trauma councillors).

      I have struggled mightily with the new ad. It simply does not make any specific claims that can be objectively verified. For example, it does not say that it is “assisting hundreds/thousands of people in getting the right to free trial” – that could be brought into question. It says that “in 55 [nations} many citizens will never know the right to a fair trial”… which is likely true.

      Regrettably, it’s probably better to concentrate on the ads where a good case can be made, than submit shaky complaints which are unlikely to succeed. This is not failure. It forces the Church to submit ads (like this one) which are so anodyne and lacking in content that they are unlikely to be taken seriously.

      The Volunteer Minister ad was vulnerable to complaint, and has appeared in “Metro” and in “New Statesman”. I have made blog posts about both “Metro” and “New Statesman” with detailed advice on how to complain. There are likely more advertisements to come, and future ads may present more convincing grounds for complaint.

      I feel that the best tactic is to complain about the previous ads (which are shaky) watch out for new ones (which many be shaky) and let this one pass… for now (it still appears in the “Metro” online archive, so we can come back to it, and complain at any time). Be assured if I become aware of any new advertisements which make claims that violate ASA rules, I will post a suggested complaint here.

      These ads are appearing because a film (“Going Clear“) that is highly critical if Scientology by a respected documentary film-maker (Alex Gibney) is due to be broadcast on the huge US TV network HBO soon. The church appears to be trying to pre-empt the bad PR that will result.

      This film was due to be broadcast on the 16th of March. However, Scientology’s clumsy efforts to discredit have generated so much public interest that it has been moved to a better slot on the 29th, where it will reach a wider audience. Scientology is now going have to extend their campaign by 13 days. They are not good as improvisation, and future ads may contain serious blunders.

      PS sorry about the delay – I have to pre-approve comments to prevent hostile spam, and it sometimes takes me a while to deal with them.

      • Thanks very much for your comprehensive reply! Ah, my mistake, I unfortunately didn’t have the ad in front of me when I was writing my comment but I’ll keep in mind the importance of specific claims vs the general impressions that an ad can give if I come across any more in the future.

        The human rights ad left me feeling quite uneasy given Scientology’s appalling track record on the subject, and searching for info about it was what made me come across this blog. It was particularly interesting to see the census data on the presence of Scientology in the UK as I don’t think most people here have directly come across the organisation in the same way as other religions.

        That’s very interesting to hear, I’ll keep an eye out for “Going Clear”. Thanks again, and keep up the good work!

        • Sorry if I come over a bit pushy on the subject of complaints, but I find it frustrating that so many good, well-meaning people waste their efforts by sending an ‘outraged of Surbiton” letter to regulators which will have no effect whatsoever. To be successful with the ASA you have to quite legalistic. This is why I published the step-by-step guide to complaining about the ‘Volunteer Ministers’ ad in “New Statesman” complete with suggested text quoting the rules and describing how they have been broken. That is all that the ASA can be officially interested in.

          If Scientology’s human rights record makes you uneasy, their other front groups will scare your socks off. There are a lot of them, but Applied Scholastics and Narconon are among the absolute worst.

          If you enter ‘Narconon’ into the search box in the sidebar, there are a number of articles about it’s dangerous ‘drug rehabilitation’ programme – and you may hear more about it in future because it seems to be on the verge of re-organising and expanding in the UK.

          As you say, Scientology can get away with a lot in the UK because so few people have heard of it. Perhaps “Going Clear” will change this. The first (very short trailer) for this film has just been released. While the official version can only be viewed from within the US, I have created an ‘unofficial’ version with no restrictions and posted it here.

    • I understand that this slot (a Sunday afternoon) is reserved for popular, prime-time programmes like “Game of Thrones”. It is far better than the previous slot on Monday the 16th of March, when more potential viewers would be working. Now the first broadcast of “Going Clear” will reach a far larger audience. This is well worth the extra wait.

      Also, the fact that HBO has disrupted their schedule to make this change shows that they believe there is far more public interest in the film than they had previously estimated. This means that they will likely now promote it more heavily – and it may achieve a mass audience. This is something no critical Scientology film has done before.

      The wonderful thing is that much of this interest has been generated by the bizarre over-reaction of the Church of Scientology, ordered by David Miscavige himself.

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