The boss of an Asian TV channel which was fined £25,000 for featuring a yoga expert who said 11 basil leaves and three black peppers could cure cancer, admits the claims were “outlandish” and should have never been shown.
Comments by Dr Pankaj Naram made on the Yoga For You show were broadcast on Zee Network UK’s Lamhe channel last month. The programme was viewed by around 3,000 people.
Viewers were told “11 holy basil leaves and three black peppers” could prevent cancer and offered medicine for sale that he said could kill cancerous cells.
Dr Naram, who describes himself as an “authority” on Ancient Siddha-Veda Secrets, said he had “75,000 cancer patients” told by hospitals they only had “another two or three months” who were living normal lives 15 years on.
Ofcom, who was alerted to the show after viewer’s complained, said the medical advice to treat the serious conditions mentioned in the programme – cancer and hernias – had the potential “to cause serious harm”.
Neeraj Dhingra, CEO of Zee TV Europe, told Eastern Eye there are “many such practitioners in India” who make such claims that “may or may not be true”.
“It does sound outlandish to cure so many patients, so that became a bit of a problem,” he explained.
“We spoke to the doctor immediately after it happened. We cancelled all his programmes and told him his communications and the way he puts it across were not right. There are many things which can happen to prevent many of these diseases, but to cure is not that easy. You need to have substantial evidence and proof.”
He added: “We have Ofcom lawyers who know all these issues. Our programmes go through a lot of scrutinising before they are aired. In this case there was a error on our part and that’s why it led to this. It was not supposed to be aired in the UK at all. It was a fairly new employee so he didn’t realise.”
Dr Naram states his mission is “to bring the benefit of Ancient Secrets into every home and every heart on earth”, and claims to have helped over a million people, including the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and 9/11 victims.
Ofcom, however, said his advice to viewers at home carried “an appreciable risk of harm to viewers”.
“We took into account the licensee’s comments that Dr Naram was ‘reputable’ in the field of Ayurveda and had ‘helped thousands of patients across the globe’.
“However, in our view, if Dr Naram was a widely known and reputed practitioner in ayurvedic practices, this was in fact likely to increase the risk of potential harm. His reputation might have encouraged more viewers to take his advice at the expense of personalised medical care provided by a qualified practitioner.”
The regulator also criticised the absence of “any warning or information about Dr Naram’s advice before, during, or at the end of the programme”.
Ofcom was “particularly concerned that Dr Naram did not, at any point make reference to the need to seek conventional and qualified medical advice”.
Zee TV said the episode was broadcast as a result of “serious errors” at its operations and compliance facility in Mumbai, where the captioning and editing for all Zee International channels is conducted.
They insisted they had “taken serious steps in ensuring that such instances are not repeated”.
However, Dhingra said the fine was “excessive” and the channel did try and “reason” with Ofcom to lower it.
“It was a bit excessive because similar ethnic channels have got lesser fines, but a fine is a fine.”
The way to overcome this, Dhingra said, was regular training. “We need to involve the lawyer much more and send the programmes to him to go through and vet,” he said.
“Also advising the doctors and other people we work with on a proactive basis that such things should not be done. Even if there is a fragment of doubt, we will not air it.”