The Daily Mail has had to pay £125,000 in compensation and costs to self-styled psychic Sally Morgan following an article that claimed she was perpetrating a fraud on her audience. Specifically, it said she got her messages from an earpiece rather than from beyond the grave. Going on reports of the proceedings, it appears that she didn’t use an ear-peice (or at least the Daily Mail couldn’t prove it), and therefore the article was libellous. On the face of it, some poorly researched journalism, but whoever would have thought it mattered in the case of someone pretending to hear things from the spirit world?
What the Daily Mail got wrong was that they decided to publish something as fact that couldn’t be backed up – specifically that she used an earpiece. If I say Sally Morgan, and all psychics, are not receiving any super-natural help for their performances or readings it’s up to them to prove otherwise. They’d have a hell of a job doing that, so I’m not worried in the slightest.
Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, has guidelines about such things. Basically, you’re not allowed to pretend that psychics are real – every so often you have to say that it’s all a load of rubbish, and broadcast for entertainment purposes only. Majestic TV, the company behind Psychic Today, have today been fined £12.5K for not doing this, and inciting credulous punters to call their premium rate telephone lines for “accurate readings”.
I’m at a bit of a loss as to why Mr Justice Tugendhat (the judge in the Sally Morgan vs. Associated Newspapers) came to his decision. Sally Morgan is no more a psychic than a plank of wood, simply because there is no such thing. Exposing her methods incorrectly was wrong, but what’s the compensation all about? People who want to believe this rubbish will do so anyway, so her livelihood is safe. Whether a judge should be awarding damages to anyone who’s livelihood depends on pretending something is true when it isn’t is another matter. So he could have found in her favour and awarded her £1.
As it is Sally Morgan’s web site waffles on about her being “vindicated”, without going in to any detail about what the ruling was about. People reading it might well infer that the judge found her to be a genuine psychic, which isn’t the case at all.
Ofcom’s guidelines on these things seem eminently sensible (see ruling), but unfortunately their reach is limited to broadcasting and publishing. The growth of phone-in TV shows, known as audience participation, where the viewers are incited to dial premium rate numbers to hear a load of stuff made up about their future, is worrying but at least it’s regulated. The Internet isn’t, and I fear this kind of activity will soon spread to there.
If any psychic out there would care to prove they are genuine I will, of course, modify my view. Be warned, I’m a qualified magician and not as easy as the usual marks to fool.