BBC forced to remove Dragons’ Den episode after complaint from charity

Pitch by businesswoman Giselle Boxer secured her an investment from Steven Bartlett

Tara Cobham
Saturday 27 January 2024 08:22 GMT
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Dragons’ Den contestant makes history as impressive pitch wins over every Dragon

The BBC has removed an episode of Dragons’ Den from its streaming platform over concerns that “unfounded claims” were made about a myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) product.

Campaigners have said they are “very concerned” about the pitch by businesswoman Giselle Boxer in series 21 of the business show, which secured her an investment from entrepreneur and podcaster Steven Bartlett.

In the episode, which aired on January 18, Ms Boxer said she had used “diet, acupuncture, Chinese herbs and ear seeds” to aid her recovery from ME, and had turned the latter idea into the brand Acu Seeds.

Campaigners have said they are “very concerned” about the pitch by businesswoman Giselle Boxer in series 21 of the business show, which secured her an investment from entrepreneur and podcaster Steven Bartlett
Campaigners have said they are “very concerned” about the pitch by businesswoman Giselle Boxer in series 21 of the business show, which secured her an investment from entrepreneur and podcaster Steven Bartlett (BBC)

An open letter, organised by Action for ME, to the chairs of two House of Commons select committees said its concerns were over the way in which her pitch was presented, suggesting the product was “responsible for her recovery and should therefore be considered an effective treatment”.

The charity also said on X, formerly Twitter, that its chief executive, Sonya Chowdhury, has written to BBC director-general Tim Davie to voice “concerns over the episode”.

On Thursday, a BBC spokesperson said: “We’re taking the concerns raised seriously, so we are reviewing the episode and therefore it’s currently not available on iPlayer.”

The corporation had earlier defended the programme, saying it “features products from entrepreneurs and is not an endorsement of them” and Ms Boxer is sharing a “personal experience that led to a business creation”.

Giselle Boxer’s (pictured with Deborah Meaden) pitch to the Dragons produced a historic moment for the show as all six put in an offer for her Acu Seeds product
Giselle Boxer’s (pictured with Deborah Meaden) pitch to the Dragons produced a historic moment for the show as all six put in an offer for her Acu Seeds product (BBC)

ME is a long-term condition with a wide range of symptoms including extreme tiredness, sleep issues and concentration problems, according to the NHS website.

It states that while there is currently no cure for the condition, there are treatments that may help manage it.

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During the show, Sheffield-based Ms Boxer told the potential investors that she had established the product after seeking treatments when she was diagnosed with ME at the age of 26.

She said: “Four years ago I was diagnosed with ME. I went from working in a top advertising agency with a busy social life and exercising regularly to being mostly housebound, unable to walk for more than five minutes without having to get back into bed.

In the episode, which aired on January 18, Giselle Boxer said ear seeds were among what she used to aid her recovery from ME
In the episode, which aired on January 18, Giselle Boxer said ear seeds were among what she used to aid her recovery from ME (Getty Images)

“I was told by doctors that I would never recover, work again or have children.

“I went on a personal healing journey using diet, acupuncture, Chinese herbs and ear seeds. Using this combination, I believe, aided my recovery within 12 months.”

Her pitch to the Dragons produced a historic moment for the show as all six put in an offer for her Acu Seeds product, which is described as a “DIY needle-free ear acupuncture for anxiety, migraines, hormonal issues, insomnia, weight loss and more”.

After hearing their offers, she decided to pick tech entrepreneur Bartlett to invest in her business.

Following the episode, a joint letter signed by ME campaign groups was sent to Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairwoman Dame Caroline Dinenage and Health and Social Care Committee chairman Steve Brine.

The Dragons Touker Suleyman, Sara Davies, Deborah Meaden, Peter Jones and Steven Bartlett
The Dragons Touker Suleyman, Sara Davies, Deborah Meaden, Peter Jones and Steven Bartlett (BBC Studios/ Simon Pantling)

The groups said that, as the episode was aired in prime time on BBC One, they were concerned that a larger audience would have heard the pitch which they alleged “amounts to an unfounded claim that this form of alternative medicine can cure ME”.

It added: “Sadly, there is currently no known effective treatment for ME. There has been a distinct paucity of research into this disease, compared to other long-term conditions, which means that ME is still without a cure.

“As a result, we remind people to only take medical advice from appropriately qualified healthcare professionals and to ensure that any treatment decisions are evidence-based and fully informed.”

The letter also said broadcasters must make “every effort to ensure that content is accurate and does not contain misleading and potentially dangerous information”.

Acu Seeds has been contacted for comment.

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