UK Regulates Occult Advertising

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 23, 2011 — 35 Comments

The UK broadcasting regulatory body Ofcom (Office of Communications) has issued a new set of guidelines for ads peddling psychic and occult services. The new rules outright ban the selling of occult services on British television, and place restrictions on tarot and astrology programs.

“Television advertisements must not promote psychic practices or practices related to the occult […] Psychic and occult-related practices include ouija, satanism, casting of spells, palmistry, attempts to contact the dead, divination, clairvoyance, clairaudience, the invocation of spirits or demons and exorcism. […] Advertisements for personalised and live services that rely on belief in astrology, horoscopes, tarot and derivative practices are acceptable only on channels that are licensed for the purpose of the promotion of such services and are appropriately labelled: both the advertisement and the product or service itself must state that the product or service is for entertainment purposes only”.

This clarification and expansion of the guidelines has come during a rise of “participation” or “teleshopping” programs that peddle psychic solutions to life’s problems (“Psychic Sally,” for instance, which was dinged by Ofcom in July) . These programs are not only forced to label themselves as “for entertainment purposes only” but are also prohibited from using customer testimonials or giving bad news.

“Ofcom’s rules further have specific guidelines preventing presenters from predicting “negative experiences or specific events” in readings, such as births, deaths, marriages or new job, or offering “life-changing advice” related to health or finance.”

To be fair, Ofcom also regulates mainstream religious bodies from making supernatural claims in advertising, but its troubling that Satanism is singled out here, as it is a belief system and not simply an “occult practice.” We also enter into murky ground when determining what is “related to the occult” and what isn’t. Is Wicca “occult” or does it fall under the broader religious guidelines? I’m all for regulation that hinders scam-artists, but imprecise or misinformed wording could end up placing burdens on the expression of core belief systems, and not simply stopping bad actors. I’d be interested to hear what my UK readers think of this, and if they think the rules will be challenged.


Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • So, how awful would it be to get a reading and have the psychic say “I can’t tell you” when what you imagine is likely worse than the bad news they are prohibited from giving?

    I have to admit, the restrictions on supernatural claims amuses me. No more virgin birth? Feeding the multitudes? Lazarus banned from television? Moses will never part the sea on the small screen again!

    • Lori F – MN

      One person’s bad news could be anothers good news.
      ie: x is dead. – if x was abusive or threatened to kill, finding out they are dead could be a relief.
      supernatural claims? I would fight for the Christians to be included in this law.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    This is what can happen in a country, howsoever democratic, that lacks entrenched protection of speech and free exercise of religion. Y’all know I don’t get all patriotic on you much, but this is one topic where I do.

    • Right there with you! This is why we must fight for those freedoms, or you will see a ban on tarot cards and other services the world over!

  • No more contacting the dead, or spirits? I guess all Christian programming is against the law, then.

  • I haven’t had a chance to read the precise wording of the remainder of the law, but it sounds as if its noble intentions could backfire in the opposite direction: they say readers aren’t allowed to give bad news, so I imagine that will result in readers giving overly optimistic readings, forcing the client to don the figurative rose-colored glasses… and therefore missing out on any other potential benefit they might have received by confronting uncomfortable possibilities. Or, as Star Foster commented before me, will result in readers having to say, “I can’t tell you.”

    I don’t think it matters if the law is being applied equally to people of all faiths and traditions in the example given, because the law itself seems to be not only unjust but also as Jason said so poorly written that it could apply to quite a different number of situations. I wonder how this law will or won’t affect covens, circles, fellowships, and other groups who use these methods as part of their worship or practice?

    And too bad about the Satanists – perhaps LaVey’s CoS or the Temple of Set will take this as an opportunity to educate lawmakers about their own traditions.

  • So

  • So where is all the Satanist TV talk shows? Inquiring minds want to know. Because so far all I can find in my area are thousands of christian shows and The Atheist Experiance.

    • Awhile ago someone had a web-only show called the ‘600 Club’.

    • There’s a guy called Brother Nero who had a Satanic religious program on public access television in Corpus Christi, Texas. The channel wasn’t too thrilled about it initially, but he threatened a religious discrimination lawsuit and they backed down, and he got his show.

  • I haven’t seen the specific writing of this new regulation and if it were in the US then yes let’s all gnash our teeth and wail because let’s face it, the US gov’t isn’t worth trusting 9 times out of 10. If the UK gov’t does it then I’ll at least give them the benefit of the doubt, and the trust that once they start having problems they’ll learn how to shape down the regulations to better target scam artists while protecting the real thing.

    I know we might have all forgotten this, but it used to be and still is normal procedure to start with a wide law and then make it more specific fixing it with experience.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      No one disputes here the process of refining a law. (And sometimes a law starts our very specific, such as lifestyle prohibitions.) But not everyone here has had your experience with the US govt, and some may have, from their experience, a less rosy view of the UK govt.

      • Anonymous

        I can see where you are coming from, but it’s worth noting that this applies only to “participation television shows” NOT religious programming. The press release also makes explicit reference to “participation television show utilising premium telephone numbers”. The other thing people haven’t picked up on is that this is a loosening of the existing regs, not the introduction of a harsher regime.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          I hate to keep sounding like a stuck record (geeze, I hope you know what a stuck record is). I realize this is about what we call “reality show” and “infomercial” television here. But infringement of basic liberties starts where people care about it the least (with suspected Communists when I was a kid, with suspected terrorists after 9/11). From there it can move in on the rest of us by increments; we Pagans could well be an increment.

          Best imho to have a legal tripwire that goes off even on the fringes.

  • Boris

    Would a sermon full of hell fire qualify as “bad news”?

  • Gareth

    The focus appears to be on claims made in advertising not necessarily the content within programmes and practices themselves. It could just be that Satanism was included out of ignorance. Given that Wicca and other Pagan traditions have recognition as legitimate religions in other areas it is possible that it would fall under broader religious guidelines. Also I’m not particularly aware of any Pagan organisations that operate in such a way that these regulations would have any impact upon them; for this reason I cannot really say if it would be challenged.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      I have never sold my insights for money, but I can’t say that no Pagan ever would or should. And it’s not so much what a Pagan does as how someone interprets it and calls in the cops. This (to wax chauvinistic once more) is the virtue of entrenched freedoms of speech and worship; regulation of this sort is categorically barred.

    • I’d agree, I think we brits have little to worry about as its aimed at advertising rather than basic on screen content.

  • James Broach

    Once again we are being oppressed. If it isn’t the Christian Fundamentalists on one side it is the Secular Materialists on the other…

  • If it is not the Christian fundis on one side it is the Atheist fundis on the other…

  • There is, of course, the Romanian solution.

  • Kilmrnock

    All i have to say about our British freinds across the pond is be very careful , this one sounds alot like sensorship and /or could be used for such a porpuse. Once you start on that path tis a slippery slope . One must be very careful.And i wouldn’t be too surprised to see this one in the courts real soon . Kilm

  • Daniel SnowKestral

    What all about those evangelical shows that proclaim to speak in tongues and prophesize? And especially those shows that, while claiming prophecy, use belief to ask others to sew “good seeds” and “bless” them with money in exchange for “holy” water? Afterall, claiming money for miracles which, in belief, may or may not happen, can also be considered “occult.”

    • Anonymous

      We tend not to have those sorts of programmes in the UK, beyond the farther reaches of the cable network where lurks the GOD Channel. Arguably Britain is far more relaxed about religion in general (note I said “in general”; we too have our share of loonies), and if you are going to be challenged about “occult practices” it’s more likely to be by an evangelical atheist than an evangelical Christian!

  • Malaz

    Slightly o.t. but Russian priests are trying to ban the Gita….

  • Beth Winegarner

    I’m glad you posted something on this; I debated whether to do so, too. Forgive me if you posted about this and I missed it, but India placed a similar ban on “occult programs” on television earlier this month:

  • See “Kissing Hank’s Ass” and tithe 10%.

    Is that deal a scam? Who are or are not scam artists?

  • Thelettuceman

    Pretty soon, the UK will pass a bill making it illegal for the Weather man to forecast bad weather and ruin the Brit’s weekend (You know what I mean.)!

    I hate nanny states.

    • Anonymous

      They are more likely to ban the good weather news than the bad. Arguably the greatest unifying factor in the UK is complaining about the weather….

    • Not to mention predicting the stock market.. now THERE is some bad news!

  • Anonymous

    Does this mean that our televangelists like Joel Osteen can’t go out there and beg for another private jet? The restriction on free speech/occult services is very discriminatory.

    • Michael

      No, I’m pretty sure they can’t do that in the UK.

  • Kilmrnock

    Alot of pagans , my wife included , do tarot readings . This is also done at many pagan businesses, book stores etc, these types of regulations will effect them . Many towns , cities etc have tried to do this here in the US. These types of regulations most of the time are way to vague to be truely useful and most times are detrimental . Aside from Levay and his ilk , true Satanists are also lumped in w/ the charlotans this type of regs are meant to control and us regular pagans as well . Tis a shame as others here have mentioned this won’t throttle the Christian Zealots as well. These people are as or more harmful than any fortune teller ever could be . So it goes . Btw , i know this is off topic , I’d just like to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah to our non pagan freinds out there . Kilm

  • Lori F – MN

    Is this Only for ads?
    As for the “no bad news” and “for entertainment only”, couldn’t quieriants be asked to sign releases? Would that work for liability?

  • I totally understand that the UK government wants to protect its citizens from charlatans, and the labeling rules as is really should cover that. All else is overstep based on the personal superstitions resident in Parliament.