Personal Finance

Covid-19: Fake claims of cure are as fatal

Parvatha Vardhini C | Updated on April 12, 2020

Be aware of the fact that neither tulsi drops nor cow urine can cure this disease

As the world grapples with the spread of the Covid-19 crisis, one thing is clear — what cannot be cured has to be endured.

Yet, many remedies have been circulating in social media as well as through advertisements.

For instance, tulsi drops as a remedy for Covid-19 and a corona-resistance mattress that keeps the virus at bay were advertised. About social media forwards, the less said the better it is. Neither tea nor cow urine cures the disease.

Claims and advertisements, no doubt, play a big role in influencing the gullible public. It is important that we keep our eyes and ears open and be aware of what the law says in this regard.

You can also prevent the spread of misinformation by doing a fact-check before sharing anything on social media. You can raise a complaint at the appropriate forum as well.

Government crackdown

Following many misleading claims on Covid-19 cure methods, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) have directed all Central authorities as well as States and Union Territories to take effective measures — including making of any false claim a punishable offence — to prevent the spread of Covid-19. This directive has been in place since March 24. Prior to this, on March 14, the Maharashtra government drew up Covid-19 regulations under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, to check false claims, and declared that such activities would be a punishable offence.

It is noteworthy that action was taken against the advertiser of anti-corona mattress by the health authorities and the police in Maharashtra.

On April 1, the Ministry of Ayush (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy), under section 33 of the Drugs & Cosmetics Act, 1940, directed the ASU&H (Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani & Homeopathy) Regulatory Authorities in States/Union Territories to stop and prevent publicity and advertisement of AYUSH-related claims on Covid-19 treatment in print, TV and electronic media.

They are also empowered to take necessary action against persons/agencies involved in contravening the relevant legal provisions and the guidelines of the NDMA.

What you can do

In these tough times, through various measures mentioned above, the government is constantly on the lookout for those who mislead the public. WhatsApp is also limiting forwarding of messages to curtail the spread of misinformation.

It is necessary that we do our bit, too. To get the official version of any news on Covid-19, you can do a fact check with the Press Information Bureau (PIB).

The Covid-19 Fact Check Unit at the PIB, New Delhi, has been functional since April 2. It will receive messages at pibfactcheck@gmail.com and through Whatsapp at +91 87997 11259. You can follow them on twitter @PIBFactCheck and on Facebook at /PIBFactCheck.

Besides, you can file a complaint with the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) against misleading advertisements. This is a self-regulatory organisation for the advertising industry and it keeps a check on advertisements in various media. Under a directive of the Ministry of Ayush, ASCI has been roped in to flag misleading commercials.

ASCI provides a facility for registering and tracking complaints online at https://www.ascionline.org. You can approach ASCI through WhatsApp + 91 77100 12345, contact@ascionline.org, toll free number 1-800-22-2724 or on twitter @ascionline.

This apart, you can also reach out to the government at https://gama.gov.in/Default.aspx. This is the portal of the Department of Consumer Affairs for registering online complaints for grievance against misleading advertisements.

Other checks on false claims

The latest directives apart, it has never been a free-run for anyone in misleading the public at any point in time.

There are several laws such as the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, Drugs and Cosmetics Act, Cable Television Network Act, Food Safety and Standards Act and Infant Food Act, which individually regulate advertising in their respective spheres. The recently enacted Consumer Protection Act, 2019, says that any manufacturer or service provider who puts out a false or misleading advertisement shall be punished with imprisonment of up to two years and with fine which may extend to ₹10 lakh. Even brand ambassadors are not spared if they don’t exercise due diligence before signing up for the ad.

Besides, regulators for service sectors such as insurance (IRDAI), telecom (TRAI), financial products (SEBI/RBI), and health (Medical Council of India) keep tabs on advertising in their respective domains.

Advertisements are also bound by the guidelines of the Advertising Standards Council of India that says advertisements should present an honest representation of facts, should be non-offensive to public and should not be used for products that are harmful sto society.

Published on April 12, 2020

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