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Scientology adverts under investigation by ads watchdog
Row over posters that claim sessions can tackle job insecurity as former member of church describes campaign as ‘misleading and offensive’
Published: 6 March 2011
Complaints have been filed with the country’s advertising watchdog over a Church of Scientology campaign, which claims its courses can help with job insecurity.
The Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) is investigating claims that the ads, appearing in Dublin’s train and Dart stations and on buses, are misleading.
The billboards and posters feature photos of five downtrodden looking workers. “When job security turns into insecurity, success begins with personal efficiency,” they advise, urging people to “attend a course in Scientology”. It is the first time Scientology has marketed its courses this way, according to Gerard Ryan, its Irish director.
On its website, Scientology Dublin says an afternoon session costing €45 will give participants “the means to new ability and lasting security in the workplace — all from application of Scientology to the workaday world with The Problems of Work by L Ron Hubbard”, the science fiction writer who founded Scientology. The fee includes “free testing”, a copy of the Hubbard book, and a film presentation.
Frank Goodman, the ASAI chief executive, said the agency had “had a small number of complaints” about the campaign and decided to inquire further. “We have to follow due process and we are legally required to go to the advertiser about the complaints,” he said. “We’re not taking it up on religious grounds but will see if it breaches any advertising code by being misleading.”
Pete Griffiths, a one-time staff member and now defector from Scientology who says he paid €10,000 over seven years to the organisation in membership fees and courses, believes the ads are misleading.
“What I found offensive is they are looking at all those who are feeling insecure about their job and deciding to use it as a sales ploy,” said the 57-year-old, a regular protester against the movement. Griffiths, who was encouraged by his brother and then wife to join, completed a similar course on tackling job insecurity.
“On one level, someone could do the afternoon course and come out feeling better and secure in their job, but in Scientology, when you complete a course, they ask you to write a success story,” he said. “If you say you don’t want to, you have to see a director to find out what went wrong. If you write it, you have to see the registrar and he will sell you your next course. You can’t just do what it says on that sign. If you just did the course and went back to your life, it would feel like you had some benefit, but you are not allowed to do that. You go from one course to the next.”
Ryan, who has done the course and pointed out that he is still working as an architect despite the economic downturn, confirmed participants are asked to write a “success story” and are offered other courses but added “if you don’t want to, you don’t”.
“I feel if you want to become a bit more confident in your life, you will become more happy in your life. If you are more confident and your boss had to make a decision about cutting your job or someone else’s, there’s less chance of you being let go than the other person. If you are more confident, you are more likely to get a job than someone who is not.”
Scientology claims millions of supporters across the world, with Hollywood actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta being among its devotees. Scientologists, who believe humans are descended from a race of aliens, claim they can purify the human mind through a process of “auditing”, whereby people relive stressful or traumatic events in their lives.
Griffiths said the promotion indicates the organisation is introducing an “emergency formula” prescribed by Hubbard when membership is drying up. Ryan said that is not the case, and that “a few” people have signed up to its courses as a result of the advertising.
Griffiths felt he was not able to speak out about his experiences until Anonymous, a group of internet users, began to protest outside Scientology meetings. Anonymous Ireland protests outside the movement’s offices on Middle Abbey Street in Dublin once a month.
“The protesters have no effect on us whatsoever,” Ryan said. “They are just kids. They just want to harass us.”