How Patanjali rode on the shoulders of Big Media

The SC pulled it up for ‘misleading’ claims, but too many news channels let Ramdev get away with it.

WrittenBy:Tanishka Sodhi
A court gavel strikes against a TV screen showing Baba Ramdev.

On television, we’ve seen Baba Ramdev contort, stretch, do headstands, and walk on his hands. We’ve seen him compete in push-up contests with students, and close his eyes dramatically when shown a photograph of a Bollywood actress wearing a bikini. 

And we’ve seen all this on India’s leading news channels, like India TV, Zee News, ABP, Aaj Tak, News18 India, Republic, India TV and TV9. They’re also platforms for Ramdev to dismiss allopathy and complain about “medical tourism” – not only through his statements but through a plethora of ads from his company, Patanjali Ayurved.

Even the Supreme Court seems to have noticed. Last week, it directed Patanjali to immediately stop its “false and misleading advertisements”. The court threatened to impose costs of Rs 1 crore for every false claim made in Patanjali’s ads.

But it isn’t that simple. Patanjali is one of the biggest advertisers on TV. A report by Tam Media Research in August this year found that it’s the third highest advertiser in TV news ads. These ads – for toothpaste, ghee, Ramdev’s infamous “Covid cure” – are splattered across every mainstream news channel.

The product criticised the most for “misleading” claims is Coronil, introduced in the middle of the Covid pandemic as the “first evidence-based medicine for Covid-19” that has a “100 percent recovery rate”. It was “certified” by India’s AYUSH ministry in 2021.

Then there’s Patanjali’s Divya Eyegrit Gold 20N, a herbal tablet that claims to be “useful in eye weakness, eye inflammation, and vision related problems”. Another product, Yogendra Ras, claims to treat “various strokes, epilepsy, heart ailments, timidity and physic troubles” as well as “paralysis, epilepsy, and mental disorders”.  Patanjali claims: “When the normal medicines fail, this is a sure-shot treatment.”

Patanjali’s Kesh Kanti Natural Hair Cleanser and Oil claimed other brands contain mineral oils that are “carcinogenic”. The Advertising Standards Council of India said this was “false and misleading by ambiguity and by gross exaggeration”. It also ruled that Patanjali’s ads “unfairly denigrates” other products. 

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