Astrology and Television
Consultation on the proposed ITC Code for Paranormal Programming:
Submission from The Astrological Association of Great Britain
- Introducing the Astrological Association of Great Britain
- Synopsis of the main Submissions
- Account of the Meeting with the ITC on 16th September 2003
- Consultation Process Limitations & Consequent Shortcomings of the Beyond Entertainment Research
- The Historical and Social Background to the Present and Proposed ITC Codes on Paranormal Programming
- Legal Implications and Proposals for a Positive Way Forward
- The Association's Proposals
The Astrological Association is Britain's premier astrological organisation with a world-wide reputation. Founded in June 1958, it is now in its forty-sixth year.
The Association's objects officially stated in its constitution are "the advancement of education of the public by the critical study of astrology in all its branches, to encourage and draw together all students of astrology, to enlarge and integrate the knowledge of astrology, to co-ordinate and publish results as desirable and generally work for its more widespread understanding as an art and science. Astrology is the practice of relating heavenly bodies to lives and events on earth, and the traditions that have thus been generated."
Its membership consists of a wide range of professionals and enthusiastic amateurs. Many have been studying and exploring the subject in a varying and complex range of ways for several decades. As well as younger people, we have members with thirty years or more experience. Our oldest is approaching 102 and boasts of more than "75 years in astrology". A much higher proportion than the average have Bachelor, or higher degrees, including a number holding or studying for doctorates.
For the last 35 years, it has organised annual conferences that are attended by more than 250 delegates. Numbers are often much higher, reaching over 600. Delegates and presenters come from the leading astrological schools and organisations in Britain and throughout the world. Some of these are older than ourselves - up to 100 years. Delegates travel from as far away as Japan, Australasia, South Africa and American to attend.
The Association publishes a quality AA Journal every two months, containing incisive and erudite, socially aware astro-analysis and comment. Bi-annually it publishes fully academic journals: Correlation for astrological research and Culture and Cosmos for cultural studies. We would be happy to provide the Commission with copies of our journals and programmes of our conferences, and further information of the academic qualifications of all those involved.
The Association is regularly asked to comment on astrology by all areas of local, national and international, television, radio and the press. In 1997, it was proud to play a major part in assisting BBC1 in its Everyman production of "Twinkle, Twinkle". Its President has appeared in BBC1's Heaven and Earth Show. A less fortunate example was Channel 5's "The New Zodiac" (2002). This was the subject of an official complaint from the Association to the ITC (your reference and contact were 1574 - Stuart Paterson).
With this background and experience, we feel that the Association is in a unique position to give to the ITC's considerations of "Paranormal Programming" the perspective of an important and highly relevant body of opinion that unfortunately that seems to have been overlooked until now.
The Association feels, therefore, the need to outline its concerns with some strength below, to correct misunderstandings, ignorance and the consequent injustice that has existed generally and in media for far too long, and which has been reflected in television regulation.
Synopsis of the main Submissions
We understand that broadcasting legislation, and most recently the Broadcasting Act 1990, require the ITC to consult with interested parties about the Rules in its Codes. Therefore the rules on "Paranormal Programming" should be made with proper advice from, and understanding of the work of, those concerned. The Astrological Association of Great Britain, the principle organisation representing astrologers in Great Britain was not advised about the consultation, although it was in contact with the ITC on another matter at the time, but now wishes to make the following submission.
We understand that the proposed Code changes are based partly on the ITC/BSC research document "Beyond Entertainment" which sought opinions of viewers about a number of matters, which the researchers grouped under the "psychic" / "occult" banner, including astrology. We believe there was a fundamental flaw in this process, in that it did not test the research respondents' uninformed knowledge and prejudices against truth or fact, but reflected them without seeking confirmation from experts in the proposed new Code Rules. We would like to correct the misinformation.
Firstly, Astrologers are especially dismayed to be grouped arbitrarily in a loose classification under the ill-defined words "psychic" and "occult". Astrology is based upon theoretical formulations about observable phenomena. It is a system of analysis that may be learnt / acquired by any person. It does not require any occult skills or powers of mystical divination. It is as inappropriate to associate it with such powers as it would be to associate graphology, psychometry and psychology with them.
We believe that failure to consult on the research initially and make proper definitions led to an essentially flawed research design, with consequent results that may well be prejudiced against, or irrelevant to astrology. Yet, in spite these critical limitations, the report's findings still do not justify the proposed wording of the ITC Code.
If implemented as proposed, the ITC Code will undermine multi-cultural development in our society, by giving unfair disadvantage to sub-groups, by suggesting their actions are harmful, without a clearly stated reason or evidence. This could encourage cultural, racial and religious prejudice. The process may be subject to judicial review and the Code itself in breach of racial / religious discrimination and human rights legislation.
Accordingly, we ask that
1) all references to astrology and horoscope be withdrawn immediately from the present and proposed Codes on Paranormal Programming.
2) if it is felt that further consideration is needed to decide the best way to care for the public, when giving advice on television, then the time deadline for discussing this should be extended. The consultation process should be widened to include everyone offering and depicting individual advice on television.
The Association is ready to assist in every way possible in this process.
Just before submitting this report, we were most grateful to Martin Booth and Francesca O'Brien of the ITC for agreeing to a meeting, which helped to clarify many of our concerns and established a process for the future. A brief account of this meeting in on the following page 3.
To take account of this new information; in our submissions and our proposals at the end, we have inserted additional paragraphs in bold italics.
Just before submitting this report, we were most grateful to Martin Booth and Francesca O'Brien of the ITC for agreeing to a meeting, which helped to clarify many of our concerns and established a process for the future. A brief account of this meeting in on the following page 3.
To take account of this new information; in our submissions and our proposals at the end, we have inserted additional paragraphs in blue italics.
Account of the Meeting with the ITC on 16th September 2003
Between Roy Gillett, President, Astrological Association of Great Britain (AA), Komilla Sutton, Chair, British Association for Vedic Astrology (BAVA), and Martin Booth, Francesca O’Brien, of the Independent Television Commission. Janet Lee, Radio Authority, also present.
On behalf of the ITC, Martin expressed regret that representatives of the astrological community had not been previously consulted, and advised that the two organisations were now on file and would be involved in future consultations. Especially, they would be consulted regarding two major processes that were planned once the new regulator, Ofcom, was in place at the end of December.
Meanwhile, he advised that the restrictions on “horoscopes” in section 10.1 of the ITC Code did not apply to astrology that was part of a religious practice. Such presentations should be considered under section 7 of the Code, and the ITC would assure any programme maker concerning this.
Furthermore, section 1.10 was seeking to protect vulnerable members of the public, not from exposure to discussion and general explanation of serious astrology, but from the exploitation of specific advise based on direct psychic “insight”, and Sun-signs of the kind presented in the newspapers. The Commission had not taken account that the word “horoscope” meant literally the “chart of the hour” - that is a precise birth chart. The astrologers explained the differences.
In all these circumstances, the Commission was open to a change in wording and invited suggestions.
It would welcome as well suggestions, as to wordings that would protect vulnerable members of the public, yet not put the exploration of serious astrology at any unfair disadvantage when being presented on the media.
The AA welcomed this clarification, but also emphasised the urgency of implementing a change. The present operation of the Code was having the opposite effect to what the Commission seemed to be intending. Sun-sign astrology was allowed as entertainment, but serious astrology was only being permitted if it was the subject of genuine investigation. This meant serious astrology was always “put on trial”. This was fundamentally unjust and led to ignorance in the media concerning astrology, which could actually be the cause of many of the problems from which the Commission sought to protect those members of the public who were vulnerable.
The AA also agreed to make available to the ITC the wording of a Code of Ethics to which any proper professional astrologer would adhere. Such a wording is given in recommendations at the end of this submission.
The AA and BAVA would like to thank Martin, Francesca and Janet
for the time and consideration that have given to our concerns
and look forward to a successful completion of the process.
A. Consultation Process Limitations & Consequent Shortcomings of the Beyond Entertainment Research
1) To seek for such a Code is a denial of natural justice
That there should be a Code at all concerning what the Commission calls "Paranormal Programming" is a historical assumption that stems from some now-outdated prejudices against certain activities and social groups in our society, rather than any valid need to protect the public. For, while abuse of personal charisma and use of power and position for malevolent ends on television is certainly a problem to be addressed, to pick out what the ITC refers to as psychic or occult activity, without qualifying whether it harmful or not, for special (and particularly repressive control) is unreasonable and unjust.
In fact, it could be argued that many of the beliefs and practices concerning God, justice, hell, karma, the afterlife and burial processes of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist religions can seem, to parents who feel strongly against one or more of these religions, like an offensive danger to their children. Many parents may feel that evangelical and fundamentalist damnation, stories of the terrible punishments of hell, encouraging feelings of guilt and remorse, rushing bodies warm to the grave, having a wake with alcohol around the corpse are all practices of some mainstream religions to which they do not wish their children to be exposed. Yet, apparently, none of these activities is singled out for investigation and restriction.
It can also be argued that the tendency of television to idolise celebrities as role models can do far more harm to young minds. In recent years of BSE and market downturn, scientific and financial advisers have probably done more harm to families than any "paranormal" activity. Contradictory expert "scientific" findings on health, crime and personal behaviour are presented unchecked on the news. Representatives from all these areas of our society can appear on television without investigative challenge at any time. If studies like Beyond Entertainment were undertaken on these, or many other social activities represented on television, the findings might well also seem to suggest the need for a repressive Code to protect the public.
In paragraph 1, page 4 of the research report, the Commission seems to assume it knows what "paranormal" activities are, that they may well be harmful and it has a duty to act. However, it gives no authority for this assumption, except to mention (paragraph 6) that its proposed new Code has the approval of the Central Religious Advisory Committee (CRAC). We understand "Its membership is drawn from the major Christian traditions and world faiths represented in the UK", and that some of the Christian representatives are chosen because they have multi-cultural and interfaith experience. However, it still may not be entirely the appropriate body to advise on this matter.
Certainly astrology is a crucial tool that assists spiritual insight in the Hindu, Buddhist, some Christian and other religious cultures in our society. Their ceremonial calendars, as well as Jewish, Muslim and Christian ones are astrologically based. Yet most mainstream religious leaders and evangelical Christians know very little about astrology, or condemn it by their way of interpreting the Old Testament. Many wrongly assert that astrologers seek to usurp the position of God, which is the opposite of the truth. Such people have the same authority to restrain astrology, as would a Labour government have to restrain the Conservative Party.
Furthermore, many aspects of astrology's relationship with Jungian psychology, cultural history and academia generally, business and human resource strategy, medical, social and personal development may be secular and not lie entirely within CRAC's remit.
2) The pre-research consultations were unbalanced.
Even if it is valid to engage in research to determine policy, we submit that the consultation process leading to the research design was unbalanced and prejudiced. The first paragraph of page 17 indicates that the established religions were asked their opinion, but not astrologers, or any of the other groups actually being studied.
The ITC failure to make contact with the Association is especially surprising, as at the time the Beyond Entertainment research was being undertaken and compiled, we were in contact with it regarding a serious complaint concerning "The New Zodiac" (your reference 1574, Stuart Paterson) - a biased and unfair programme, that we feel was encouraged by the present ITC Code.
It would not be appropriate for the ITC to make decisions, or conduct research into: medicine without referring to the BMA, or on scientific affairs without referring to the Royal Society?
3) The unbalanced consultations led to poor definitions and prejudiced sampling and grouping. As a result the research design is essentially flawed and its results likely to be prejudiced against astrology.
Because it failed to take proper expert advice, the research draws poor definitions of psychic and occult and assumes horoscopes, astrology and palmistry to be "similar psychic practices"? Where is the association between psychic activity and astrology and where is the evidence that suggests they are associated?
Astrology is based upon theoretical formulations about observable phenomena. It is a system of analysis that is based on defined principles and rules for interpreting astrological factors in a birth chart, i.e., the map of planetary positions in the sky for the time, date and location of an individual's birth - an event. Potentially the interpretation of these factors may be learnt / acquired by any person. It does not require any occult skills or powers of mystical divination, with or without a medium or contact "with the other side". Computers can and have been programmed to generate insightful reports with no psychic involvement whatsoever.
If there are special indefinable and intangible skills they are in the synthesis of the various elements and factors suggested by the calculations, that is down to special individual skills - and that is as true of a doctor or a scientist as it is of an astrologer. The same applies with equal logical force to other disciplines that are widely used for assessing human characteristics and potential such as graphology and even psychometric testing. So, why has the ITC decided not to bracket these and other similar disciplines with "palmistry and other psychic practises." Indeed, we think that the palmists may also have a strong case against this blanket bracketing "with other psychic practises," because their discipline is also based on a system of long established, widely acknowledged and pre-determined rules and principles for interpretation. 'It can be, and has been taught for thousands of years.
We now understand that the word "horoscope" was intended to guard against the giving of specific individual advice based on sun-signs alone. Sun-signs divide the world population into twelve. Genuine astrologers would be as critical of this as the Commission. However, the word "horoscope" means the "chart of the hour". This is not the way to refer to Sun-sign comments. An alternative wording is needed. We would say that to give specific, individual advice based on sun-signs alone would be a psychic, not an astrological practice. The restriction is therefore sufficient without reference to "horoscope", or any alternative word.
A code reading "that palmistry and similar 'psychic' practices..." would achieve the Commission's purposes without any counter-productive side-effects.
Page 17 of Beyond Entertainment outlines the nature of the samples and suggests they were balanced. This misses the point - unless it is the ITC's aim to use majority taste to justify censoring minority opinion and cultures.
Yet, even if we suspend this objection, the sampling was not balanced, as is claimed. It was unrepresentative. Many who adopt astrology as a part of their religion and culture live in particular areas of the country, but the quantitative groups were chosen by sex, age and social class alone. By not considering regional balance as well, the research is in danger of under-representing Hindu, Buddhist and other religious groups.
The qualitative groups are fundamentally flawed. Four "mainstream religion", five agnostics / atheists in each group. Which "mainstream religion" could be critical, or indeed prejudicial, but this is not stated? Religious believers are more likely to have feelings against astrology (see the reference to CRAC in A 1) above). This could intimidate the opinion of the others, who, by the other criteria set for the group (no practitioners / astrologers etc.), are unlikely to know much about the subject. So, the groups are set up to deny the certainty of a single knowledgeable person in favour of astrology being present. On the other hand, it is certain that one or two, even four people will be against it. With regard to the other five: since astrology is not taught at school and has always been subject to repressive, restricted coverage in the media, it is unlikely that a representative sample of the population will have a reasonable understanding of what they are being asked. The wording and presentation of the questions need to be carefully constructed by people who understand this. As far as we know, no astrologers were consulted.
So, even within its own terms, the research seems to have asked the wrong people the wrong questions. Hence the answers they gave are of no use in determining whether there should be an ITC Code on the paranormal and what its wording should be.
4) In spite of its obvious structural and prejudicial limitations, the report's findings still do not justify the proposed wording of the ITC Code.
The first paragraph on page 12, shows most people in the qualitative groups found horoscopes as "relatively harmless" and about "the acquisition of positive, comforting information and generic advice." On page 13, paragraph 5, the research does not say how the poorly constructed qualitative groups came to the conclusion they did about the watershed. Were they asked whether they agreed with the watershed formula in the proposed Code alone, or given a number of options? What group action preceded their stating an opinion? In any case, the paragraph talks about the "programming watershed" with regard to "psychic programming on BBC1 and ITV1". This is an arbitrary and an ill-defined general group of activities. As has been shown in A 3) above, astrology is not a psychic activity, so the group could not have been referring to astrology. Any reference to it should be deleted from the Code.
That the group did not mean to include astrology is further corroborated by the findings from the quantitative group. The table on page 26 shows the following percentages of the quantitative group did not agree, or strongly did not agree that the following practices were harmful: a personal horoscope 72%; a personal reading from an astrologer 76% and a general horoscope 86%. So, although the questionnaire was designed to encourage them to be negative, very large proportions of these possibly prejudicially designed samples, declined to be so.
Page 43, first paragraph shows that at breakfast-time, when children are preparing for school, the percentage of ITV1 viewers willing to accept the following astrological information were: newspaper horoscopes 83%; personal horoscopes 73%; personal astrology readings 68%. Although the second paragraph shows the first remained the same and the last two increased by 6% and 11% respectively after the watershed, clearly a majority of viewers surveyed are happy to see all the main kinds of astrology on their screen before the watershed.
In summary, none of these findings from the ITC's own report Beyond Entertainment justifies any restriction on the presentation of astrology on television, either before or after the watershed. The word "horoscopes" and all reference to astrology should be deleted from the Code.
The section on the historical and social background that follows suggests now-outdated prejudice led to the creation of the ITC Code. It also explains why, because of unfortunate programming problems, we feel so strongly that the Code should be changed without delay.
B. The Historical and Social Background to the Present and Proposed ITC Codes on Paranormal Programming
The use of the term "paranormal" is of uncertain meaning and intended to be pejorative. What is "normal" and what "beyond normal"?
If only tangible material science is normal, then all religion, most psychology and some of the more advanced ideas in modern physics are all paranormal. Is the proposed Code designed to apply to all these things? In the year 1900, Einstein's Theory of Relativity would have been paranormal. In 1830, Faraday's work on electromagnetism that led to modern electric generators and the very world we live in today would have been paranormal. At the time of the Renaissance "paranormal" people were burned for suggesting the world was round and the solar system heliocentric. The concept of what is normal changes.. To fix what can and cannot be known and exchanged as "normal" is to freeze knowledge and limit our children's future.
The grouping of a number of poorly understood and very different activities under the one heading of "paranormal", and seeing them as harmful to individual well-being is a product of the early 20th century world view. This saw white Anglo-Saxon Christian culture and a narrow understanding of Newtonian science as supreme and anything else dark and dangerous. Such a view was used to justify colonialism, racism, male chauvinism and other forms of discrimination.
We are reassured by the clarification in our recent meeting that the restrictions on "horoscopes" in section 10.1 of the ITC Code do not apply to astrology that is part of a religious practice and that such presentations should be considered under section 7 of the Code. However, as explained in section A 1), this does not include all serious, academic and responsible astrology. Furthermore, because misinterpretation of the ITC Code has led to misunderstandings about astrology, a clear change in code is needed immediately. A detailed description of the problems that make this urgently necessary is given below.
Because it is arbitrarily grouped in this way, astrology is only allowed to be shown as "entertainment, or the subject of legitimate investigation". "Entertainment" means that only sun-sign, newspaper style "horoscopes", are allowed without challenge. These roughly divide the world population into twelve. Well-written, these may have some general use; but are to genuine astrology as playing Chop Sticks is to a Beethoven symphony. The difference in complexity is as great. Yet, without a proper education in the subject the general public can feel no more than incredulous fascination.
The phrase "the subject of legitimate investigation" may at first sight seem to offer a fair chance for the public to learn and judge. In practice, it does not. Nearly every attempt to talk seriously about astrology on television puts "astrology on trial". All the astrologer's statements are challenged and argued against. (Please refer to our complaint - your reference 1574 -for full details of just one of many such examples.) How would a Christian priest, a Jewish rabbi, an eminent physicist, or doctor feel, if subjected to such a treatment? Frequently psychologists, political, financial and sociological commentators are allowed to comment, or present whole documentaries without a contrary view being expressed. Why should astrologers be singled out?
As our complaint shows, a group of prejudiced sceptics have taken advantage of the current ITC ruling to deny astrology reasonable and balanced airtime, in which to breath and express itself. Because of the ITC ruling, an associate of this group known by its initials CSICOP is usually asked to appear when astrology is discussed. Unsuspecting astrologers are encouraged to take part. Facts are misrepresented. Nearly every programme is a repeat of discredited "research", well-trod biased accounts, old arguments and counter-arguments. The ITC ruling forces the programme makers to have the debunkers there. So discussion rarely gets passed first base and little is learned.
Ignorance of the true nature of astrology creates fear and vulnerability concerning it. A society denied proper knowledge of electricity, might see it as lethal. Some people might urge access to it be barred. Their world would lose many of the benefits we enjoy. By having a Code that bars progress and is open to misuse, we feel the ITC denies proper knowledge of astrology in the media. In our experience, it is this that "leads to distress and harm being caused to vulnerable individuals" and their children - not astrology.
Legal Implications and Proposals for a Positive Way Forward
In addition to its effect on the public, the existence of the ITC Code has caused considerable distress, inconvenience and hardship to our members and associates in their business and family life. The incorrect impression given by the Code leads to constant challenges to astrologers and their families in their normal day-to-day experiences. This has led to a number of members urging the Association to take legal action should the ITC Code regarding astrology remain. It has been suggested that the way the Code has been decided and implemented may be the subject of judicial review and that it may contravene legislation outlawing racial and religious discrimination, or abuse human rights.
Of course, the Association has no wish, or expectation that it will be necessary for it, or its friends to take legal action. We are sure that the ITC was intending to act in good faith to amend an old regulation in an area where opinion is fast changing. We hope that this submission will clarify what is wrong and needs to be corrected. We seek to open the door for a proper decision to be made. The recommendations that follow are designed to make this possible.
The Association's Proposals
1) That the words "horoscope", "astrology" and any reference to astrological activity be deleted from the present and proposed Code altogether and immediately.
No replacement is necessary as it is impossible give specific advise to an individual using knowledge of the Sun in the birth chart alone, unless one is demonstrating "psychic" ability. "Psychic" activity is already covered by 1.10.
If the ITC feels a specific reference to "Sun-signs" is needed, the implications of inserting the phrase "Sun-signs" instead could be discussed.
2) The whole question of how advice is given on television should be reviewed by the ITC. Ill-informed opinions are to be found in a wide range of expert disciplines - be they normal, or paranormal.
The intention of the advice and how flexible it is needs to be measured. People should be encouraged to make their own decisions. Experts should open up the background. Assistance with relationships should encourage understanding and refrain from giving specific instructions or judgements on individuals. "Agony aunts" should follow this ruling, as much astrologers.
Below is the wording of a code that any good astrologer would follow. We would hope that anyone giving advise on the media (whatever their field of expertise) would follow its spirit.
"To respect the dignity and worth of every human being and their right to self-determination. To accept a responsibility to encourage and facilitate the self-development of the client, whilst having due regard to the interests and rights of others.
"To refrain from offering any specific medical, legal, or financial advice to a client on astrological grounds unless the appropriate skills or qualifications have been obtained."
The Association would gladly discuss all matters necessary to ensure the public can get the very best benefits from astrology and the other arts, sciences and disciplines that exist to benefit peoples' lives. So we can all work together for the greater good.
Roy Gillett - President - on behalf of the Astrological Association of Great Britain, 19th September 2003