Ofcom hits DM Digital with stiff medicine
UK-based DM Digital TV has been hit with a "statutory sanction" and fined £15,000 by UK regulator Ofcom for serious breaches of the UK broadcasting code. DM Digital TV describes itself as the UK's first Pakistani TV network to broadcast from Manchester, in the north-west of England. Dr Liaqat Malik, a lawyer, founded the Urdu-language channel.
DM Digital TV transmitted an edition of its weekly programme ‘Health is Wealth' at 7.45am on March 8 2007. The show carried an interview with Dr Professor Mohammed Jamil Jilu ("Dr Jamil"), a homeopath. The complaint was that Dr Jamil made potentially dangerous claims regarding the successful use of his homeopathic medicines to treat and cure serious conditions including cancer, diabetes and hepatitis. The complainant was also concerned that the programme appeared to be used as a platform for promoting Dr Jamil's homeopathic practice.
Dr Jamil stated during the programme, for example, that "There is a full and successful treatment of cancer in homeopathy"; and regarding hepatitis, "...I believe that if you use our medicine for 1 month your hepatitis will become negative and you will not need to take any other medicine for you life and you will not get hepatitis or any other illness as it will build up your immune system God willing".
Ofcom investigated and found that Dr Jamil was the sponsor of the programme, a fact that was not made clear to viewers. Jamil had made the programme and supplied the content and thus must comply with Ofcom rules on sponsorship.
The complainant's main concern was that the programme was broadcast in Urdu and that the TV channel would be viewed by people living in the UK of Pakistani origin amongst some of whom, he said, levels of medical awareness are low. He believed that some viewers could easily be exploited and might come to grave harm. He was also concerned that the programme appeared to be used as a platform for promoting Dr Jamil's medical practice.
Ofcom considered that the programme allowed Dr Jamil, an alternative health practitioner, to make unsubstantiated and potentially dangerous medical claims regarding the ability of his homeopathic treatments to cure serious illnesses. This could have resulted in viewers with treatable cancers and other significant medical problems to dispense with orthodox medical treatment in favour of Dr Jamil's treatments. Ofcom, therefore, considered that this failure to apply generally accepted standards resulted in inadequate protection being provided to viewers against this material which had a clear potential to cause vulnerable members of the audience very serious (and possibly life-threatening) harm. The programme was, therefore, in breach Rule 2.1 of the Code.
There were multiple other breaches revolving around the question of sponsorship. The maximum fine that a Court could apply for a criminal offence related to the Cancer Act 1939 (advertising a treatment for cancer) was £1000.
DM Digital argued that other (ethnic) channels were also carrying Dr Jamil's programming, and that it was a "small budget channel providing a service to an ethnic community that is not represented" and "an extreme fine would take [it] out of business". It submitted that as far as Pakistan was concerned the content was not unacceptable and it met regulatory guidelines. DM Digital also explained that the breaches occurred because the Compliance Manager employed at the time did not properly check the programme. It was also not picked up by the Programme Manager before broadcast and was transmitted without the Chairman's knowledge or consent.