China cracks down on TV fake medical experts

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has banned actors and other “non-accredited personnel” from playing medical experts in advertisements for drugs after an Internet-led witch-hunt exposed a number of bogus experts, state media reported on Monday.

A Chinese Internet user late last month exposed 12 fake experts selling medicine under various guises and names on television stations in eastern Shandong province, sparking an online uproar over false endorsements.

China’s fair trade watchdog, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) vowed punishments after local hospitals and universities queued up to deny any affiliation to the “experts,” local media reported.

Non-accredited personnel would be banned from such advertisements and other health programmes carried on television, Xinhua news agency said, citing a notice jointly issued by the SAIC, China’s health ministry, the country’s media regulator and two other drug quality watchdogs.

Further breaches would see advertisers and companies’ advertising licences revoked and “temporary suspensions of sales for their medicinal products,” Xinhua paraphrased the notice as saying.

China’s broadcast watchdog, the State Administration of Radio Film and Television, has battled to clean up the country’s notorious advertising industry in recent years, periodically imposing advertising bans for local companies whose drugs and health products fail to meet standards.

But fake drug and food quality scandals continue to plague the country, despite regulators’ promises to get tough.

Chinese police earlier this month arrested at least five people in connection with a fake diabetic drug linked to the deaths of at least two people and sold in the thousands in several provinces.

The scandal occurred weeks after China handed death sentences to two men for their role in making and selling milk tainted with melamine, an industrial compound. At least six children died and nearly 300,000 fell ill after drinking toxic dairy products last year.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Alex Richardson