Dr. Oz, Bryce Wylde, and the Canadian Law Against “False or Misleading News”

red-palm-oil-vs-other-oilsThe following is a guest post by Jeremy Petch, health policy researcher and Opinions Editor at healthydebate.ca. Follow Jeremy on Twitter @JeremyPetch.

Dr. Oz has become a ubiquitous television icon. His daily talk show, broadcast in Canada on CTV (owned by Bell Media), rules the daytime TV ratings. In real life, Dr. Oz is a practicing cardiac surgeon and medical researcher. On TV, however, he often plays a weight loss guru, eager to help his viewers “bust their belly fat” with a new “miracle” product seemingly every week. The problem, of course, is that none of these miracles work. Canadian bloggers Yoni Freedhoff, Julia Belluz, Stephen Hoffman and Scott Gavura have done a great job documenting the many, many misrepresentations and outright falsehoods spouted by Dr. Oz and his guests. All of this has made me wonder, is CTV breaking Canadian law by broadcasting the Dr. Oz show?

What law might they be breaking? Canada’s Television Broadcasting Regulations (1987), which regulate all broadcast television, including CTV. These regulations, which are enforced by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), state that “A licensee shall not broadcast any false or misleading news” (5.1d). You may remember this little regulation from a few years ago, when the CRTC thought about getting rid of it, but backed down under unprecedented public outcry. Apparently we Canadians like to be able to trust our news media. Crazy, eh?

Now, I’m not a lawyer and I’m pretty sure Bell Media has some good ones, so they could probably convince a court that Dr. Oz isn’t “news”. He’s just a daytime TV personality! It’s just entertainment! No one could mistake Dr. Oz as serious news reporting! But of course in the court of real life I’m betting many mistake a renowned cardiac surgeon and a widely published scientist talking about “brand new medical treatments” on a major television network for news.

Okay okay, the expensive lawyers win, Dr. Oz is probably legally (but perhaps not ethically) in the clear, but what about his Canadian contributor, our very own homegrown homeopath TV personality, Bryce Wylde? Haven’t heard of Wylde? Here in Canada he used to host his own program called “Wylde on Health” on CP24 (also owned by Bell Media).  That’s right, CP24: “Toronto’s Breaking News”. This program was broadcast alongside weather forecasts, traffic reports, sports scores and breaking news headlines. There is no mistaking it: this program was presented as health news, on a dedicated news channel. These days Wylde is the “health and wellness expert” for CityTV Breakfast Television and CityLine, and also makes guest appearances on CityNews.

Is the information Wylde feeds to his audience false or misleading? His claims about homeopathy for first aid, red palm oil for cardiac disease and weight loss, and high dose vitamin C for cancer being backed by solid scientific evidence certainly are.

But should we care? I think so, but I suspect few of us really feel like there’s much we can do about these gurus of daytime television who regularly make claims that simply aren’t backed up by medical evidence.  But maybe there is: maybe it’s time to give the CRTC a call.  By clicking the link to the CRTC you’ll be taken to a fill in the blank style website that would allow you to lodge a complaint, and if you think news should in fact be factual, why not take a minute or two to register your concern?

24 Responses to “Dr. Oz, Bryce Wylde, and the Canadian Law Against “False or Misleading News””

  1. Chip Cherry says:

    Great article (I know most spam messages have such vague compliments, but this is not spam).

    The link to the CRTC doesn’t seem to have been included. Is this the one you wanted to include?

    http://www.crtc.gc.ca/rapidsccm/register.asp?lang=e

    Thanks for writing this!

  2. Art Tricque says:

    Don’t think Wylde on Health is showing on CP24 Toronto any more. It’s not on their list of talk shows http://www.cp24.com/talk-shows, nor on their schedule. That’s a good thing, but it might complicate any complaints to the CRTC.

  3. Ricky says:

    I guess Wylde is off the hook because he is no longer on a “news” channel?

    We should just have a law banning false claims! Make a claim, you better have it backed up with science or evidence.

  4. Taylor says:

    Yeah, seems like Wylde has been done on CP24 for awhile (thankfully)… https://twitter.com/WyldeOnHealth/status/196690378970243073

  5. Emily Nicholas says:

    This is a great piece Jeremy,

    I am more than pleased that people are starting to question the validity of Dr. Oz’s claims and also consider the detriment that the existence of this type of celebrity might have on public health. In an age where people are turning more and more to media and internet sources for medical advice, the impact of so-called experts touting non-evidence-based (or, as you say, outright false) treatments, becomes increasingly significant. The perpetuation of the idea that “wellness” can be achieved through quick fixes and cure-alls runs in opposition to the current needs of an aging society, suffering from chronic disease(s). Unfortunately, long-term approaches to health are not marketable in the same way that Red Palm Oil or extreme detoxes are.
    I am going to take a minute or two to register my complaint. My input may not be a quick-fix to getting rid of “health gurus” like Dr. Oz and Wylde, but with slow, accumulated efforts over time we can hope to achieve healthy health-reporting.
    Best,

    Emily Nicholas
    Board Member Patients’ Association of Canada

    • Hi Ms. Nicholas,

      I love your comment! Bad Science Watch, a national science advocacy and consumer protection group and your organisation may have several things in common. Perhaps we should chat about it some time?

      mkruse AT badsciencewatch DOT ca

  6. Jeremy Petch says:

    Thanks very much for pointing out that Wylde on Health was recently taken off CP24. Wylde has moved over to CityTV (also Bell Media) and I’ve asked Skeptic North to update the article to reflect that. Appreciate the fact checking!

  7. Alex T says:

    I went ahead and filed a CRTC complaint because I totally agree that homeopathy and vitamin C megadosing aren’t merely wrong but by steering people away from legitimate treatments they are actually harmful.

    Good stuff, let’s see what they say.

    • Alex T says:

      I got an email back, saying:

      The broadcasting industry has its own self-regulating organization, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), which administers codes of industry standards and mediates complaints from members of the public. Given the concerns you have raised, I have asked the CBSC to pursue this matter with CP24 on your behalf.

      If you want to contact the CBSC directly, you may do so by emailing info@cbsc.ca, by writing to P.O. Box 3265, Station D, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 6H8 or by calling 1-866-696-4718.

      For more information about the CRTC’s complaint process, please visit our Fact Sheet entitled ‘’How to make a broadcasting complaint’’’ which can be found on our website at http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/INFO_SHT/G8.htm.

      I trust this information will assist you.

  8. Liam L says:

    The link to the CRTC worked; my complaint has been logged and I have a reference number. Now to get several thousand others to do the same: maybe we can make a dent in this guy. I have a family member who buys into everything this guy says, and I see her (a) tossing money away as she abandons the former “miracle” in favor of the next “miracle” every other week, and (b) either keeping her health st a status quo or even sometimes showing signs of decay. That’s just one, and it’s a (shudder) testimonial, but it’s my own motivation for keeping informed and wanting to take action against quacks, charlatans, and shills.

  9. CC says:

    I wonder if getting the health authority guy who ordered a retraction for an “alternative” whooping cough non-vaccine involved would get any more traction on this.

  10. Iain says:

    Response from CRTC:

    Broadcasters are responsible for the choice, content and scheduling of all programming they provide. While the Commission regulates and supervises the Canadian broadcast system, the Broadcasting Act does not give the Commission the right to edit or censor programming. Under the Broadcasting Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we must also respect freedom of expression and the journalistic, creative and programming independence enjoyed by the broadcasters. Our role is to make sure the broadcasters have acted responsibly and, to hold them accountable for the programming they have aired, when it’s called for.

    Please note that we do not conduct general program reviews. In order to assist you, we would require the name of the station, the name of the program, the date and time it was broadcast and a brief description of your concerns in regard to a possible breach of the Broadcasting Act and its Regulations.

    You may wish to direct your concerns to the General Manager of the station airing the program. Broadcasters are generally responsive to audience concerns.

    I am also providing you with a link to the fact sheet which explains our complaints process: http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/INFO_SHT/G8.htm

    However, having said this, I have taken the liberty of forwarding your correspondence to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) which administers codes of industry standards and mediates complaints from the public involving their member stations. Should you wish to contact the CBSC directly, you may do so by writing to P.O. Box 3265, Station D, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 6H8, or at info@cbsc.ca. You can also reach them at 613-233-4607 or toll free at 1-866-696-4718.

  11. Iain says:

    Second response, this time from the CBSC. Pretty impressive response times, even if they can’t actually do anything. Please note the limitations they cite on what complaints they can handle – we don’t want to piss off the regulators by spamming them with a bunch of complaints that don’t fit the rules.

    “The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) has received your correspondence concerning Wylde on health. It was forwarded to us by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

    Unfortunately, the CBSC can only deal with complaints from individuals who have seen the program themselves, live. This does not, of course, mean that the expression of your views should not have been filed, but only that, in the circumstances, the CBSC Secretariat could not consider your complaint within the CBSC’s complaints resolution process. However, if I am wrong and you did watch the show in question please complete your file by providing the date and approximate time at which you saw it on television, for official taping and review purposes. Please note that broadcasters are only required to hold logger tapes of their programming for a period of 28 days following the broadcast, so we would need this information as soon as possible. We have nevertheless forwarded your correspondence to CP24 so that they may be aware of your concerns.

    If in the future you should have any concerns regarding content that you saw or heard on private Canadian television or radio, please contact us as soon as possible after the broadcast with the date, time and station and we will be glad to deal with your complaint right away.”

    • Jeremy Petch says:

      Hi Iain,

      Thanks very much for your comment and for this information. Up in the article we’ve linked this broadcast from CityNews: http://www.citynews.ca/2013/01/09/natural-flu-remedies/ from January 9th, 2013 where Wylde discusses some “natural” flu prevention techniques. Perhaps someone more up on immunology and epidemiology than myself can weigh in on whether those claims are misleading (at least half of them don’t seem to pass my personal smell test).

      Even if this particular incident doesn’t pass muster, I think the CBSC’s correspondence is helpful for establishing what would be required. Wylde’s on CityTV these days, so I hope folks will keep an eye out and express their concern if they feel his appearances on CityNews and other programs are spreading false or misleading news.

      Thanks again!

  12. Dianne Sousa says:

    Jeremy,

    Thanks for this article. I think it brings up some novel avenues for the effective challenge of misleading medical information in the media of all types.

    There’s a particular woman, marketing herself as “Canada’s Leading Women’s Health Expert”, that regularly appears on a talk radio station where I live. The radio station asks people to call in with questions and inevitably she gives out supplement and dosage advice, usually without asking any question of the caller at all. No disclaimer is given and no information regarding her education or qualifications is given either. I happen to know that she doesn’t have any qualification that would lend itself to supplement prescription and have often wondered whether there was any avenue of complaint with CRTC/CBSC that would payoff.

    Thoughts, anyone?

  13. Denis says:

    In Australia we have a Journalist code of conduct (from the “AJA”) that demands fair and balanced reporting.

    The problem is that many presenters merely left the AJA (or didnt join) and now call themselves “commentators”.

    I suspect that Dr Oz would (similarly) claim that his isnt a “news” program but just “general interest” , or some other euphemism for a news program deliberately providing misleading “news”.

  14. The medical advises available on net or TV shows should not be readily accepted. We should think once or twice before following any sort of “free advice.” For instance once somebody told me that onion juice is very good for skin. But y common sense told me not to take this advice. I think the broadcasting of such programs should be banned and we should also not look at any shortcut solution to our health issues.

  15. David Allen says:

    Interesting article. People should be educated enough to follow medical advices on TV and not follow everything blindly. Broadcasting false medical tips should be stopped.

  16. Pat Koets says:

    I don’t watch Dr. Oz so can’t comment on his show. However, I used to watch Wylde on Health and enjoyed the variety of guests that he had on his show. Many of his guests were medical doctors who now use some form of alternative medicine in their practice. People are quick to discredit alternative medicine but seem ok with the large amount of money being spent on cancer research even though we still have far too many people dying of cancer. I only discovered alternative medicine about 6 years ago and, personally, have had great success with alternative medicine when western medicine had not been able to help me for over 30 years. However, I agree that we should not be treating and self medicating ourselves….we need to see qualified health specialists–alternative or western!

    • rob says:

      Very well said, I liked Wyldes show and he had guest and topics covering a wide array of topics when it came down to health. Looks like he just caught in the hype that the Dr.Oz show brings, that show can be annoying to watch as there always something as being touted as the “newest”, “best”

  17. Say no to medicine! says:

    You guys are all idiots! These are natural alternatives to taking drugs and pharmaceuticals that actually do you more harm! Name me one person who gets sicker from natural remedies, hence NATURAL! What our bodies are meant to take, no chemicals synthesized in a lab. People get sicker from these drugs and you guys are too brainwashed by your doctors to figure it out! It’s a trillion dollar industry of course they are gonna discredit people from believing that herbs and vitamins are good for your health! As a health practitioner myself i have seen first hand people so sick on meds prescribed by their docs who are now thriving without them! Get with the times people. It’s people like you that are contributing to our lengthy wait times at the doctors office and costing Ohip a fortune. Start taking care of yourselves rather than relying on pills that don’t make you any better in the long run. Take a look at the health effects on the commercials for depression pills for an example—-is that right? Take natural alternatives—no side effects!!!! Tada!!!!! Idiots.

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  • Erik Davis

    Erik is a technology professional based in Toronto, focused on the intersection of the internet and the traditional media and telecommunications sectors. A reluctant blogger, he was inspired by the great work Skeptic North has done to combat misinformation and shoddy science reporting in the Canadian media, and in the public at large. Erik has a particular interest in critical reasoning, and in understanding why there’s so little of it in the public discourse. You can follow Erik's occasional 140 character musings @erikjdavis