When we saw the news last week that the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had banned a Scientology television commercial, we immediately assumed that we knew who had made the complaint about the ad that eventually got it taken down.
The TV ad made the same claim — about Scientology’s “Volunteer Minister” program aiding some 24 million people — as appeared in a print ad last summer which was the subject of a complaint to the ASA by Underground Bunker commenter Once_Born, who runs the the excellent Scientology Books and Media blog.
We assumed Once_Born was also behind the complaint that took down the TV ad, but it turns out we were wrong about that, as you’ll see. But we’re still glad that we asked him about it, because he sent over this interesting backgrounder on the ASA and Scientology…
Sadly, I didn’t have anything to do with the ban of the Church of Scientology TV advertisement in the UK. I don’t even own a TV. However, a previous complaint which I drafted might have had some influence on the fact that this ad was banned, not merely withdrawn.
After some success with a complaint against Narconon Scotland (they took their entire website down and it has never reappeared) I complained about an ad in the magazine New Statesman which made claims about “Volunteer Ministers.” I also encouraged others to complain by describing how to do so online. The New Statesman ad was placed as part of a Scientology campaign (which included electronic billboards in London) back when Going Clear, the documentary film, was about to be broadcast.
The ASA upheld our complaints and Scientology withdrew the ad and promised not to do it again. A subsequent complaint about an online video failed. This made the same claims and included the same images but it was hosted on a US server which fell outside of the ASA’s remit.
You have to understand that the ASA is not a government body. Government has avoided statutory press regulation for years, for fear of accusations of censorship. It is an independent organisation paid for by the media it regulates. They are not as rigorous as the law would be.
The first stage of an investigation into a complaint is informal — they try to resolve the situation by persuading the advertiser to voluntarily withdraw or modify a questionable ad. This is what happened with our New Statesman complaint. The only downside for them was that when the complaint was upheld, this fact was recorded on the ASA website.
However, if an advertiser is uncooperative, or proves untrustworthy, a formal investigation can be launched, which has greater powers. It’s possible that the ASA looked at previous complaints, saw ours, noted that the Church of Scientology had broken its promised not to repeat specific claims about VMs and escalated. I hope so.
It’s also possible that the reporters didn’t do their research and characterised another withdrawal as a “ban,” but I don’t think so.
Ultimately, the ASA has the power to require recalcitrant advertisers to submit copy before it is published, and it has been my aim to force them to do this by demonstrating that Scientology promises cannot be trusted. Consequently I am very interested in UK ads, especially those concerning VMs
In conclusion — I’m disappointed to have missed this opportunity, but glad that someone else took it up.
Thank you, Once_Born. According to the Guardian, the ASA banned the TV ad because Scientology couldn’t produce any real evidence that its VM program has benefited 24 million people. We know, of course, that any of the numbers you see in a Scientology ad need to be considered pure fantasy, as we demonstrated more than four years ago.
DeCrescenzo hearing delayed a month
On Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John P. Doyle decided to postpone a hearing that was scheduled today in Laura DeCrescenzo’s forced-abortion lawsuit against the Church of Scientology. The hearing, which will consider Scientology’s latest motion for summary judgment in the seven-year lawsuit, will be held on April 5.
Bonus items from our tipsters
Here’s Mark Bunker with today’s XENU TV archival video: “Shot in 2000, Al Buttnor was brought into Clearwater after the opening of the LMT to help with ‘PR chores.’ I asked him about one particular task a caller to the LMT had said he performed.”
Forward this quote to your friends!
Rod Keller found this extremely depressing post yesterday on Facebook. Does anyone know Desiree? Can anyone tell us the name of her father or his wife? We’d like to look into this a little more.
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Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield