By Malinda Seneviratne –
Transgressions are often accompanied by approval. Approval comes in the form of justification. It can also take the form of dismissal through trivializing, i.e. of the ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘he was not drunk, he was sleep-walking’ kind.
The magnitude or otherwise should not however warrant dismissal and this is probably why the adage ‘punishment should fit crime’ came about. Serious transgressions require heavy punishment, petty thievery warrant exaction of minor retribution.
We are talking ‘approval’ here. It is no secret that false and exaggerated claims, especially in a situation where the claimant’s reputation is suspect, need to be buttressed by approval. Approval must come from entities that appear to be uncompromised, honorable, ethical and professional. This is why people who have some kind of ‘scientific’ badge are tagged to claim.
It is no secret that companies pump large sums of money into ‘research’ where compromised ‘scientists’ come up with conclusions that back false claims. It is also no secret that certain drug companies dress up models with stethoscopes and physicians’ overcoats when peddling medicines. The laws of the country are either inadequate or lack teeth to counter these unethical tactics of product and brand promotion. Celebrities are used as models and they are also used as approvers. For a price. Kumar Sangakkara’s heart may bleed for those suffering from Osteoporosis, but if that’s the case, he should not accept a cent from Anlene, for example. Maybe he doesn’t. Other do, though.
Celebrities, in their ignorance, endorsing products is understandable. When professional bodies play ‘approver’ for a price it is a serious matter.
A few years ago, the Heart Association prostituted its logo on a bran cracker product, claiming it was heart-healthy when there was no scientific evidence to support the contention.
Then we have the Nutrition Society, whose name suggests it is a professional body, actively soliciting and receiving funding from sections of the food industry and thereafter offering apparently neutral views on issues that either endorse products by relevant companies or deflect or dilute criticism of the same. Rightfully, they should disclose ‘interest’ when expressing their punditry.
Recently, a high-ranking official of the Medical Research Institute, offering voice and designation to a promotional CD put out by the world poultry industry, subtly recommends that chicken be consumed three times a week, after contending that myths about the ill effects of eating chicken contributes to malnourishment among children. No caveats are offered, for example about alternative sources of protein. The message is simply ‘give your child chicken or risk stunting’.
It is widely known, also, that infant foods that are not absolutely necessary are prominently branded in hospitals, especially in and around maternity and children’s wards, where unsuspecting mothers are persuaded to purchase the unnecessary.
The truth is that the consumer is ill-equipped to critically assess claims made by corporate racketeers and advertising agencies that really don’t give a damn. Add the frill that is approval by apparently impeccable authority and the battle is won (by the unethical) and lost (by the consumer).
Whenever an uncompromised professional stands up and says ‘no’ or ‘wrong’ and points finger, it is not the relevant corporate entity that moves to sit him or her down. It is the approving ‘authority’ that actively moves to pooh-pooh, marginalize and vilify. That’s necessary because bucks count, one has to conclude.
Let’s put them all together. We have extremely rich companies eminently positioned to purchase political cover, ‘experts’ and worse ‘expert bodies’ ready to receive sponsorship and therefore ready to compromise, scientists up for purchase, and a consumer that is ill-informed. The consumer would be like a Kumar Sangakkara suffering from cramps, flu and a cold and carrying a groin injury facing up to Dale Steyn in full cry, or like a flu-ridden, ankle-twisted and wrist-sprained Lasith Malinga hobbling up to bowl to Chris Gayle. Who would bet on Sangakkara hitting a six? Who would bet on Gayle getting out?
There’s a positive here. A healthy Sangakkara would negotiate Steyn. A healthy Malinga can outwit Gayle. An informed consumer who knows his or her rights would give those in the business of hoodwinking a headache. A community of such consumers would knock them out.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com