Private Eye, that radical UK fortnightly magazine, has just banned my classified ads. Why? Because they say they ‘contravene the 1939 Cancer Act.’
Let me leave aside for a moment what the 1939 Cancer Act actually says and look at what my classified ads say. Here they are, all thirteen of them. I would like you to read them and feel if they are stuff that you feel deeply that you need to be protected from them.
CANCER SURVIVOR’S BIBLE. 550 pages. Everything you need to know to get well again. http://www.fightingcancer.com
CANCER SURVIVOR’S BIBLE. A friend has cancer? Get them this book. http://www.fightingcancer.com
CANCER SURVIVOR’S BIBLE. Surgery? Chemo? Radiation? Diet? Herbs? Supplements? Get the facts. http://www.fightingcancer.com
CANCER SURVIVOR’S BIBLE. 550 pages. The facts. The arguments. The options . http://www.fightingcancer.com
CANCER SURVIVOR’S BIBLE. Sensible, straightforward discussion of all options. “inspirational” http://www.fightingcancer.com
CANCER SURVIVOR’S BIBLE. Cancer is coming to someone near you. Be prepared. http://www.fightingcancer.com
CANCER SURVIVOR’S BIBLE. Some people recover without pain and damage. How? http://www.fightingcancer.com
CANCER SURVIVOR’S BIBLE. How to get well again without nearly killing yourself. http://www.fightingcancer.com
CANCER SURVIVOR’S BIBLE. What your doctor and the cancer charities won’t tell you. http://www.fightingcancer.com
CANCER SURVIVOR’S BIBLE. “Get this book. Read it. Be inspired by it” http://www.fightingcancer.com
CANCER SURVIVOR’S BIBLE. Real evidence-based decisions are best. Read this book. http://www.fightingcancer.com
CANCER SURVIVOR’S BIBLE. If you have cancer this is the book to read. http://www.fightingcancer.com
CANCER SURVIVOR’S BIBLE. “I wish I’d read this book before I was diagnosed.” http://www.fightingcancer.com
So, there we are. Thirteen Cancer Act (1939) offending ads. Do you feel threatened by them?
Here is what the Private Eye ad person said when I first approached the magazine:
“Before we can officially approve any advertising we have to run it past the editorial team for their approval. We’ve previously been approached by a similar advertiser in the past and the editorial team have not accepted the wording. This is nothing against your product, it’s just the editors have a priority to protect their vulnerable readers.”
The idea that Private Eye’s readers are a particularly vulnerable sector of the community will amuse most. However, I could see that this was a preliminary move that was likely to lead to a rejection. I therefore responded robustly as follows:
“I understand and I am prepared to amend ads that do not fit your editorial requirements – however, I do not think that my book will mislead ‘vulnerable readers’ down a path that will be abusive in any way. My book does not take sides. My book offers information about conventional and non-conventional approaches to cancer in an entirely even-handed way.
Here is a review by “Lucy W.” on Amazon UK that makes this point: This is a book that everyone should read….Having just been through surgery myself to remove a breast cancer lump and facing follow-up treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy, I am so glad I was tipped off to read this book. It tells a lot more about the ‘orthodox’ treatments for many different types of cancer, including statistics on the actual effectiveness of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy and a full list of the possible side effects of these – much more information than the doctors gave me. I was also able to ask more relevant questions about the proposed treatments, how they work, and why they would be given. The latter two thirds of the book are devoted to ‘alternative’ ways of treating the body to rid itself of the cancer by holistic means – seeing the cancer as a symptom – not the cause – of the body’s ‘dis-ease’. This book helps to put things in perspective and was invaluable to me in making my decisions about follow-up treatment. In hindsight, if I’d have read it before I had the surgery, I would probably have persevered with ‘alternative’ means of treating myself first – under the guidance of my natural health practitioners, who I’ll be continuing to work with in order to treat my ‘whole’ self as a preventive measure against any further ‘dis-ease’.
The author does not advocate either the ‘orthodox’ or ‘alternative’ route, but suggests the reader should decide on the treatment – or combination of approaches – that are right for themselves. Please, absorb the vast amount of information within this book and make the right choices – knowing you now have so much more information at your fingertips than the doctors will ever tell you.”
I followed this up with another email:
As you can see from the review [from Lucy W.] I do not advocate any therapy (though of course I am extremely sympathetic to the alternative route) – my book offers information. Unless your editors think that the offering of information is dangerous, I simply do not see what the problem is. Private Eye’s ethos is the uncovering of information that vested interests would like kept private or hidden – that is precisely my ethos too. My book is always reasonable and does not advocate any therapy to the exclusion of others. I simply help clarify the issues, the arguments and the facts.
I accept that the wording of my ads may need to be tweaked, changed or replaced – but the fact that my ads might not be allowed at all I find horrifying (particularly from Lord Gnome’s mighty organ!)
Could you forward this message to the decision maker. I would be happy to send samples of the text so that they can see the tone for themselves.
These emails appear to have swung the decision in my favour and it was agreed that they could be placed. Whew! Battle won – or so I thought. A few months on, after about six of the ads had appeared I received the following email
Happy New Year to you.
We have had a reader point out that your classified ad contravenes the Cancer Act 1939 in terms of advertising to do with the treatment of cancer. [link attached] Unfortunately, this means that we are no longer able to run your advertising.
Apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.
Kindest regards etc
I went to the legislation and found that the key provision appears to be this:
No person shall take any part in the publication of any advertisement—
(a) containing an offer to treat any person for cancer, or to prescribe any remedy therefor, or to give any advice in connection with the treatment thereof; …
Applying this wording to my advertisements, I could not find one that contravened the Act. I wrote to Private Eye for clarification:
Just so that I don’t make the same error again could you please send me details of the reported contravention.
This was their reply:
I’m afraid that the only details I have are the details that I’ve already sent. The link includes some more details on the legislation.
So Private Eye’s position seemed to be that some reader somewhere had a vague idea that any advertising in relation to cancer was illegal and it was up to me to see where my error was but in the meantime – and indeed forever after – they would not be taking my ads, thank you very much. So I wrote back to them – remember Private Eye is the leading radical establishment magazine that will go to great lengths to dish the dirt – and made the following points:
Dear Private Eye
The Cancer Act of 1939 states this:
No person shall take any part in the publication of any advertisement—
(a)containing an offer to treat any person for cancer, or to prescribe any remedy therefor, or to give any advice in connection with the treatment thereof.
In none of my advertisements do I offer to treat any person for cancer
In none of the advertisements do I prescribe any remedy
In none of the advertisements do I give any advice (or even offer to give advice) in connection with cancer treatment.
What I offer is information. There is nothing in the Act that considers information to be an offence. (but that might come if no-one is willing to fight this battle)
So it suggests to me that your reader is ill-informed and that you are too quickly absolving yourself of any part in the dispute.
The problem is that this is a matter of freedom of speech – and Private Eye over the years has been a pioneer in extending the boundaries of speech freedom.
If you feel that one of my advertisements is badly expressed that is one thing, but if you are simply crumbling in the face of prejudice and criticism that is quite another – and unworthy of you.
I felt that that had put the point as pointedly as I was able. But there was no adequate response to this so a few weeks later, as I was still irritated by the complete lack of balls and backbone – not to mention absence of intellectual integrity – being demonstrated by Private Eye and its editorial staff (particularly, I presume, the hamster like Ian Hislop) that I wrote the following – an email to which I am still awaiting a reply (I’m not holding my breath)
Dear Mr Hislop
You have discontinued the classified ads for my book, The Cancer Survivor’s Bible, on the grounds that they contravened the 1939 Cancer Act. Yet no-one was able to say in what particular way they contravened the Act. You may remember that I had some difficulty in placing the ads in the first place as the lady in charge of the ads was very skittish. She was concerned, if I remember rightly, about all the deeply vulnerable readers who might be seduced away from the path of righteousness on matters relating to cancer. Private Eye is of course noted, along with Women’s Own, The Lady, the People’s Friend and Saga magazine, for its appeal to this sector of the community.
There was a definite sense of relief all round when I was told that a reader had complained about the ads and that therefore they had to be discontinued.
Now, it may be that I have completely misunderstood the nature of Private Eye. I had assumed (naive of me I’m sure) that it was an organ that boldly pushed the boundaries of freedom of information. There is no area of information so absent from our media than that relating to the possibility that non-conventional options might be effective. There is a very powerful sector that is very resistant to this information being dispersed or any debate taking place. They are not above scaring timid editors with threats of the dreaded 1939 Cancer Act (an outrageous piece of legislation if ever there was one. It may stop men from shouting fire in a crowded theatre where there is no fire, as one supporter once suggested. But it also prevents anyone from shouting fire when there is a fire. And that is in no-one’s interests).
I don’t know who said: I may not agree with you but I will fight to the death to preserve your right to state your opinion (or words to that effect). But clearly this will never be the motto of Private Eye. I don’t ask that you agree with me. Just that you don’t self-censor yourself.
The ironic thing about all this is that the classified ads were a complete waste of money as they did not have any impact on my sales figures.
© 2013 Jonathan Chamberlain