London May 23, 2008 – It came and went like a bolt out of the blue - The Times (nicknamed “the Thunderer”) ran the headline. "Fortune-tellers targetted in new Consumer Protection Regulations"
"The fortune-tellers, at least, must have seen it coming. The biggest overhaul of consumer laws for 40 years takes effect on Monday, tightening controls on everything from door-to-door salesmen to children’s advertising.
Fortune-tellers and astrologists will be bracketed with double-glazing salesman under the new Consumer Protection Regulations. The changes, which implement an EU directive on unfair commercial practices, require businesses for the first time to act fairly towards consumers and will outlaw diresputable trading activities.
Fortune-tellers will have to tell customers that what they offer is “for entertainment only” and not “experimentally proven”. This means that a fortune-teller who sets up a tent at a funfair will have to put up a disclaimer on a board outside.
Similar disclaimers will need to be posted on the websites of faith healers, spiritualists or mediums where appropriate, as well as on invoices and at the top of any printed terms and conditions. "
Other British newspapers ran an almost identical story - and picked up that the new law will, among many other changes, replaces the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951. And in an effort to put entertainment over fact, most repeated the hackneyed joke "they should have seen it coming!" I have to admit that I didn't ... frankly, the story just didn’t add up!
Who would propose a disclaimer that is inappropriate, if not dishonest?
First, every newspaper article used an archaic and rarely used term for astrologers: ‘astrologists’ suggesting the author was the same individual and someone who was out of touch with the profession. Second, only an ignoramus or mischief maker would propose that astrologers lie by claiming that their work is for entertainment purposes only. This kind of coverall disclaimer for astrologers, spiritualists, psychics, mediums, faith healers would not protect the public, but act as a shield for a charlatan or a malpractioner. Since the public understand that most astrologers offer guidance, insight, psychotherapy, healing, counselling, wisdom, education and yes, ideally present this in an entertaining or interesting way, this new law would ask the public and every astrologer to act out an elaborate, but pointless charade.
The courts will determine the specifics of the new Consumer Protection Law.
So I checked with our local Trading Standards Officer. From our conversations and a booklet* outlining the new law, that he sent to me, the following is clear:-
There is nothing specific about astrologers, psychics etc in the new EU directive. The details of the act will be determined by decisions in court. The new law is designed to ensure that traders “act in a way that enables the average consumer to make free and informed purchasing decisions”. Misrepresentations by any trader are actionable in the civil or criminal courts.
Astrology Disclaimers advisable but not required.
So, astrologers (and psychics et al) are not required to issue disclaimers. However, the new law implies that a disclaimer would be advisable for practicing astrologers who provide a written or recorded analysis to avoid any risk of misunderstanding or accusation of misrepresentation. This is especially true for astrologers since there are people out there who believe that astrologers can predict the future in a scientific way or that their lives are 'ruled' by the 'stars' (sic) or that the expertise of an astrologer is necessarily superior in specialist areas such as medicine, finance or the law.
Redundant and ridiculous disclaimers.
The practice of disclaimers has long been ridiculed. Typical of this is the warning on the Batman cloak that this "garment will not enable you to fly". Or made redundant; the bag of Planter's Peanuts that says "may contain nuts"! Or reduced to legal lipservice; when a movie like Dreamgirls (2006), clearly based on the lives of Diana Ross and the Supremes, plus Marvin Gaye and even features a young Michael Jackson look-alike, claims "any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental"!
Disclaimer to avoid disappointment, dispute and possible disaster.
In July 2008, Transit magazine published some of these comments and the above disclaimer plus a more detailed statement by Roy Gillett, President of the Astrological Association of Great Britain. This opened up a discussion from various sources including an email exchange between Dr Geoffrey Dean and myself. [I have asked him for permission to publish the exchange and am awaiting his response.] This led to an updated and fuller disclaimer from Roy Gillett, including contributions from various AA members and myself.
"An astrological analysis is based on a translation of the symbolic meaning of astronomical cycles into ordinary language. This knowledge has been acquired through observation and application over thousands of years and supported by my experience practicing astrology over X years. To date, this analysis is not supported by experiments using the conventional research methods of hard science. Some scientists and most astrologers consider such test methods to be inappropriate for the subject matter and flawed for a variety of reasons. Astrology is a symbolic language and offers a balance of probabilities rather than specific certainties. As such, astrology cannot foretell your future. You should also seek qualified professional advice for medical, financial, legal and other specialist questions."
So the so-called ‘Entertainment only rule' probably started as a news agency's comment based on their interpretation of the EU directive. Then in the ensuing media hype, speculation led to theory and ended up in print as fact. And just maybe, we astrologers could have seen this coming. Mercury went retrograde in Gemini on 26th May, the day the new law took effect. But it's only now that Mercury is moving direct (from 19 June 2008) that we can unravel the truth and maybe deflate another urban legend.
Thanks to my friend, Roy Gillett, for the references and other suggestions.
20 June 2008 [updated 19 August 2008]
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