Publishing giant Penguin Australia has been fined $30,000 by Consumer Affairs Victoria for publishing Belle Gibson’s book The Whole Pantry.
The money will go to the Victorian Consumer Law Fund in a humiliating rebuke to the publisher for failing to fact-check the cookbook, as part of an enforceable undertaking from Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV).
CAV concluded that Penguin Australia engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and made false and misleading representations in breach of the Australian Consumer Law by publishing The Whole Pantry.
Penguin withdrew the book, published in October 2014, in March 2015 when it emerged that Gibson’s cancer story was a hoax. The publisher admitted Consumer Affairs that it previously sought details from Gibson, but published the book without getting them.
Gibson claimed to have been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer aged 20, but survived thanks to her diet and natural treatments. She later admitted to lying about her illness.
The book also claimed that part of its sales proceeds would be donated to charity. The failure to make the donations led to the discovery of Gibson’s charade.
CAV director Simon Cohen said he was pleased Penguin had willingly co-operated with the investigation, which also looked at Gibson, who is likely to charged with deceptive conduct.
“This is an important step in ensuring that consumers receive only verified information and are not deceived, particularly where serious matters of health and medical treatment are concerned,” Cohen said.
As well as the $30,000 contribution, Penguin Australia has agreed to improve its compliance, education and training program for staff, including a risk management checklist for books that make health claims, and statements about natural therapies in books must be accompanied by a prominent warning notice.
The program began in July 2015 and must continue for at least three years from the date of the undertaking.