What’s wrong with the Advertising Standards Authority
The ASA is acting beyond its remit and effectively attempting to act as a regulator of what constitutes medical practice.
The ASA is not basing its decisions on “the available scientific knowledge” (CAP Code12.1), or even on the dominant paradigm of evidence-based medicine (EBM).
The ASA is adopting the radical view that only randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are “objective” and have validity, and that patients’ reports on their own health are “subjective” and invalid, even when backed by other evidence. This position is not only unscientific but is extremely hazardous to the health of patients. 85% of the information required for diagnosis comes from what the patient says. In addition, about 50% of RCTs of medicine as a whole are inconclusive. The MHRA “yellow card scheme” exists precisely because “objective” trial results are not reliable guides to the reality of clinical practice.
The ASA is refusing to permit publication of evidence of effectiveness in clinical practice, even when the evidence is gathered by national health services from thousands or millions of people, and even when nature of the evidence is clearly identified.
The ASA has admitted that it does not have the competence to assess evidence relating to holistic/natural/integrative medical practice.
When the ASA does employ the services of “experts”, their qualifications, career path and financial interests have previously been almost entirely allied to conventional medical pharmacology, with no evidence of any training or qualifications relating to the subject therapy.
Faced with evidence which contradicts its arguments, the ASA has redrafted the arguments, ignored the evidence, or even redrafted the complaint in order to retain the same conclusion. One complaint was radically redrafted after seven months of correspondence, despite the fact that the ASA requires that “Complaints must be made within three months of the marketing communication’s appearance”.
The ASA makes claims without producing any evidence to support them, and then bases its conclusions on such unsupported claims.
The ASA uses slanted language. The investigation team consistently slants its presentation of marketers’ cases negatively by stating that they “believe” that their evidence supports their statements, and “believe” their conclusions to be true. On the other hand, the investigation team positively slants its own opinions by ‘considering’ its own statements to be the case, even when these are opinions unsupported by any evidence, and by ‘concluding’ from these opinions as though they were based on sound evidence.
The ASA investigation team presents the “prosecution” case to the ASA Council; the investigation team has complete control over the presentation of the “defence” case; and the investigation team also recommends the judgement. This is a fundamentally flawed approach, especially in the context of the other issues outlined above.
The ASA intimidates advertisers, – mainly, in this case, self-employed therapists – with language that makes the ASA sound like a government agency, when in fact it is a private limited company created by the advertising industry.