The BBC has pulled an episode of Dragons’ Den after a backlash due to a claim from a contestant that acupuncture and ear seeds helped her recover from ME.
Letters have now been sent to politicians and to the BBC over the claim, and others, which could force the long-running business format into a period of reckoning.
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In the episode, which aired last Thursday, contestant Giselle Boxer said “diet, acupuncture, Chinese herbs and ear seeds” helped with her recovery from the condition, and led her to turn the idea into the brand Acu Seeds. She received £50,000 ($63,000) in exchange for a 10% investment in the company. The Daily Mirror quoted Boxer as saying the BBC had approached her to take part in the show.
Over the past week, campaign group Action for ME has mobilized and sent a letter to the chairs of the UK’s Culture, Media & Sport and Health & Social Care Committees expressing concern that the “way in which her pitch was presented on Dragons’ Den suggests that this product was responsible for her recovery and should therefore be considered an effective treatment.” ME is a long-term condition with a wide range of symptoms including extreme fatigue, sleep issues and concentration problems, according to the NHS website, which lists potential treatments as cognitive behavioural therapy, energy management and medicine to control symptoms such as pain and sleeping problems.
“It is important that broadcasters make every effort to ensure that content is accurate and does not contain misleading and potentially dangerous information,” added the letter from the campaign group. “Given the episode in question was aired during primetime on BBC One, we worry that a larger audience will have heard this pitch which amounts to an unfounded claim that this form of alternative medicine can cure M.E.”
Boxer didn’t explicitly say the seeds cured her illness, the letter noted, pointing to the fact that she had updated her website the day after the episode aired to clarify.
The BBC has said that the episode, which was watched by a linear audience of more than 3M viewers, is being “reviewed” and therefore is currently not available on iPlayer. Another from the 21st season aired last night.
Furthermore, The Times reported this morning on another letter from academics sent to BBC Director General Tim Davie outlining a number of examples of “extravagant claims” made on the show, which turns 20 next year and airs in the U.S. under the name Shark Tank.
Signed by numerous academics, the letter highlights an appearance in the same episode from the founder of a cacao company who claimed that his drinks had “healing properties” and helped him when he was “suicidally depressed”. Another example of a psychic business that uses crystals to “purify blood” was also floated, which took place in a different episode.
In Dragons’ Den, produced by BBC Studios, contestants pitch business ideas to a quintet of ‘dragons’ who then have to decide whether to invest and what stake in the business they will take in return.
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