Credulous alt-med article on Radio NZ

June 11, 2017

Categories: Skepticism , Tags: Pseudoscience, Rongoa

Radio NZ published an article (opens new window) this week that seemed to accept, without evidence, claims that traditional Maori medicine can help with medical conditions including cancer.

The article focuses on a health expo in Whakatane, and there is talk in the article of "a space of healing", "therapists", "toxins" and "coming through".

The article interviews Bonnie Pearson, and talks about how she "was diagnosed with cancer, but recent blood tests have revealed she is now in remission." and how "She also has bone spurs that affect the spine. Although back surgery is recommended, Bonnie has chosen to explore alternative treatments for her pain." Although there's no direct claim of the cancer having been treated by local al

A friend emailed Radio NZ pointing out that the article came across as an endorsement of unproven therapies, and was told by the author:

"My article about the healer's expo was designed to give information about an event which is growing in popularity among many Māori.

Bonnie Pearson was one of the people who I interviewed and she regarded the expo as another step in her journey to explore alternative forms of pain relief.

My report was a balanced and accurate summary of her views."

The Press Council says about balanced reporting:

"Publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance, and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission. In articles of controversy or disagreement, a fair voice must be given to the opposition view. "

Of course there is a risk when criticising traditions that you can be accused of being racist. Thankfully, although I have several successful complaints against companies in NZ selling traditional Maori therapeutic products and services, I've never been accused of being racist - and that's certainly not the impetus for my complaints. However, a colleague of mine, Daniel Ryan, was accused of this when he complained that a Kawakawa cream made unsupported therapeutic claims. Part of the response from the advertiser said:

"I find this complaint to be a classic example of the simply racist attitudes that hold one culture's beliefs and practices to be superior to another's"