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