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  The Broadcasting Complaints Commission  						Grosvenor Gardens House 						35 & 37 Grosvenor Gardens 						London SW1W 0BS  						Telephone: 071 630 1966 						Fax:       071 828 7316  R. M Hargreaves Secretary                                    Newsnight                                   BBC2                 COMPLAINT FROM THE LONDON CHURCH OF CHRIST   The Broadcasting Complaints Commission have considered a complaint of unfairness from the London Church of Christ about a July 1993 edition of BBC2's Newsnight which took a detailed and critical look at the church.   Overall, the Commission did not uphold the complaint.                          *** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ***    Complaint from the London Church of Christ - Newsnight, BBC2, 16 July 1993  The complaint -------------  On 16 July 1993, BBC2 broadcast an edition of Newsnight which included a detailed and critical look at the Church of Christ.  The London Church of Christ, founded in 1982 by an American mission, complained to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission that the item had been unfair to them.  They said that it had been generally biased and unbalanced and had been primarily devoted to condemning the Church.  Contributions from numerous interviewees "for the prosecution" had been used, compared with a contribution from just one interviewee in defence of the Church. The item had been particularly unfair in the following respects:  1.  The BBC claimed that the item had investigated the Church of     Christ's worldwide policies and teachings.  In fact, the London     Church had been the primary topic.  This had been clearly     indicated in the BBC's letters to Mr Kip McKean, the founder and     leader of the Worldwide Church of Christ, and in the commentary     which had described the London Church as "Britain's fastest     growing and most dangerous cult".  Given the item's distinctly     critical slant, it had been unfair not have to included an     interview from anyone from the London Church and, moreover,     not to have given them the opportunity to rebut the serious     accusations made against them.  The programme-makers had spoken     by telephone to the London Church's Administrator, Mr John     Partington, but had declined his offer to be interviewed about any     outstanding queries even though Dr Al Baird, the world sector     leader whom they had interviewed, had not been able to answer many     of the questions put to him.  Dr Baird had, in fact, urged them to     speak to the London Church.  2.  At the hearing before the Commission, the London Church said that     the item had insinuated that they had acted dishonestly.  The     commentary had said that that the "...Church has at times been less     than truthful...in 1989 it had to return £150,000 to the Inland     Revenue, for taxes it failed to pay on leaders' wages, and     benefits".  There was no dispute that £141,040 had been paid to the     Inland Revenue in relation to outstanding tax and National     Insurance for the years 1983/84 to 1987/88.  However, there had     been no intention on the Church's part to deceive or mislead.     Indeed, they had not incurred extra liabilities or penalties which     the Inland Revenue could have imposed had they found dishonesty or     wilful default.  The London Church had, in fact, been     professionally advised throughout the 1983-88 period by a firm of     chartered accountants.  Their accounts prior to 1992 might have     lacked clarity and precision, but no-one had claimed that they     gave a "full, fair and accurate picture of the Church's financial     affairs".  Indeed, the regulating bodies did not require such     high standards: at the time, the Charities Commission had required     only that "the statement of the account is correct".  Furthermore,     there had been nothing sinister in the repayment of the back tax     by the parent American Churches.      The programme had also unfairly made references to "infiltration of     universities by use of ten different names by the London Church of     Christ".  In fact, they had used only the names the South London     Church of Christ, the Central London Church of Christ and the     International School of Evangelism (which trained evangelists to     go overseas).  Student members of the London Church occasionally     set up their own socities for Bible study independently of the     Church, and there had been one unfortunate incident whereby an     over-sealous student had tried to form a society called the     Historic Literature Society, having been refused permission by his     university to set up a bible society on the grounds that he was a     member of the Central London Church of Christ.  The incident had     not been repeated.  At the hearing, the London Church said there     had been no intention to deceive in using different names: the     names had simply arisen following the growth of the Church.  Each     part of the Church needed to establish its own sense of identity.  3.  The item's commentary had erroneously said "...the Church presents     itself as willing to give generously to the poor.  But the financial     accounts show...the money going to benolvent causes is tiny, just     one per cent in 1990".  In fact, all the money collected for the     relief of poverty was used for that purpose.  The item had failed     to distinguish between the finances of the American Churches and     those of the London Church and had failed to take into account the     LOVE offering.  Monies collected for the LOVE offering, an     international third-world poor-relief fund, were banked separately     and were not, therefore, shown in the London Church's accounts.     For the year ended December 1990, the London Church had donated     £79,008.52 to the LOVE offering and £11,465.00 had gone towards     United Kingdom benevolvence and assistance.  Thus £90,473.52 had     been spent on relief of poverty and that represented over seven per     cent of the London Church's income.  4.  The item had included the unsubstantiated allegation by Mr Ayman     Akshar, a former member of the London Church, that he had seen     "...some of the funds of the poor contribution being put in a     drawer...and some of the leaders just helping themselves and off     they go with no record of accountability".  There was no truth in     the latter allegation which, to their knowledge, had never been     made before.  Mr Akshar had previously expressed various concerns     to various people and the Church had always endeavoured to attend     to them.  However, his letter to the Church leaders had not     specifically mentioned the serious allegation of misappropriation     of the poor fund and the March 1993 programme Beam & DaSilva had     suggested only that monies had not been accounted for properly and     could, theoretically, have been open to abuse.  The London Church     had mounted an internal investigation and had found no evidence to     support the allegation.  Moreover, the Church Treasurer at the time,     and two others who would have been familiar with the procedure for     banking the money, had confirmed that the poor contribution had been     banked properly.  The London Church had strict financial procedures     and policies which were set out in regularly-reviewed Policy and     Administrative manuals.  At the hearing, the Church said that the     poor contribution was collected weekly from a number of zones and     was recorded by two people and "signed off" by two people before     being put in the office.  No loss of money had been noted at the     time.  5.  The item's commentary had wrongly alleged that "...detailed records     of members' sins are actually kept on computer by the Church's     leaders".  In fact, the item had inaccurately described the contents     of a list obtained from the American Church.  The list did not     record members' "sins": it simply noted personal data about the     struggles members faced on their paths to Christ and had been     designed to aid pastoral care.  For their part, the London Church     kept no such records (other than the normal administrative     information which was kept in accordance with the Data Protection     Act 1984) but because the whole programme had been framed by     constant references to them, it had appeared as if they also listed     members' sins.  It was true that sins were discussed but this was     done to help one another rather than to record information for     cynical reasons.  6.  At the hearing, the London Church said that the item had referred     to members being "broken both emotinally and financially" and of     being left "spiritually raped".  It had included the Reverend     Graham Baldwin's erroneous allegation that the Church practised     mind control, sleep deprivation and restriction of people's diets.     In fact, the Church had been neither intentionally nor knowingly     involved in such practices.  The only occasions when members were     expected to lose sleep were on organised prayer nights.  Fasting     was sometimes encouraged so as to focus on God spiritually but it     did not amount to an orchestrated restriction on diet.  On the     question of "mind control", it was a fact that many non-christians     readily viewed any committed fundamental faith as almost     necessarily teh product of mind control.  However, the London     Church had no desire and no right to control the minds of others     and, indeed, their members all made their own decisions.    The BBC's response ------------------  The BBC said that they had investigated the Church of Christ as a worldwide organisation with an active subsidiary in London.  It had been the programme-makers' intention to look at the global movement using the London Church as the most relevant illustration for a British audience.  Several weeks had been spent researching the item and they had been careful to interview relevant and highly-qualified experts.  The BBC made the following statements in answer to the specific complaints:  1.  The item had investigated the Church of Christ's worldwide     policies and teachings and the programme-makers had, therefore,     interviewed the most authorative church figure possible.  London     was only one regional office of an international organisation and     one which continued to answer to the American Church.  They had     approached the Church's leader, Mr McKean, but he had offered Dr     Baird as a spokesman.  Dr Baird had been able to answer most of     the questions put to him and it had been agreed the the     programme-makers would contact the London Church to discuss the     remaining areas.  The British leader, Mr Fred Scott, had been     unwilling to answer the criticsms brought against the Church.     Indeed, the London Church leaders had been evasive throughout.     Newsnight had not regarded Mr Partington as having sufficient     authority to discuss the church's worldwide teachings and     policies.  However, they had put the outstanding allegationa to     him and had made efforts to pursue them with him.  His brief     comments in reply, given by telephone (only the day before the     broadcast), had been included as appropriate in the item.  2.  Mr Partington had admitted that the London Church's £150,000     payment in 1989 to the Inland Revenue had been paid in respect     of taxes which they had failed to pay, and that the tax returns     for that period had, therefore, been false.  The most favourable     interpretation of the non-payment was that the London Church's     accounting practices had been lax.  Mr Pesh Framjee ACA, a     Charity accounts specialist consulted by the BBC, had told them     that the only correspondence presented by the London Church from     their accountants at that time had related only to three     American evangelists and had not indicated that the Church had     been advised that it should not pay tax on the income of its     British employees' income.  Mr Framjee had also said that the     accounts had not given a fair, full and accurate picture of the     Church's financial affairs.  He had found them at best confusing     and at worst misleading: for example, he had found it surprising     that the £161,645 back tax liability had not been identified in     the 1990 accounts, particularly as far more insignificant     amounts had been separately and clearly identified.  The BBC     said that the back tax issue had been one meriting investigation     in the public interest: the unpaid tax debt had been sizeable     and it had appeared from their accounts that the Church had used     its charitable funds to pay the back tax.      The programme-makers had documents which demonstrated that the     London Church leadership had knowingly used false names: for     example, in 1991 they had issued a leaflet under the name "The     South London Christian Fellowship".  Mr Alisdair Mackay, a former     section leader, had confirmed that the group had been set up at     the instigation of the church leaders in order to "cover up" the     effects of the media investigation into their activities.  At     the hearing, Mr Mackay said that experience had shown that the     name London Church of Christ turned people away and so they had     specifically used another name.  It was also clear that the     names had not simply been adopted by over-zealous members for     individual Bible studies.  Indeed, there were documents     available which showed that the Church had used various names in     their efforts to lure students; and some Universities, both in     Britain and the United States, had taken the unusual measure of     banning the Church.  3.  The item's point had been that the amount given to the poor had     been comparatively small when compared with the Church's total     income.  From the information given to Church members in internal     memos it appeared that the contribution to the poor in 1990 should     have amounted to at least £61,000 and yet the 1990 accounts showed     that only £11,465 had gone on all benevolent givings: it had thus     amounted to approximately one per cent of the Church's £1,141,426     total revenue.  The LOVE offering, if indeed it was separate from     the London Church's accounts, was irrelevant to the one-per-cent     figure.  Furthermore Mr Framjee considered it surprising that the     Charity Commissioners had not been provided with any accounts of     the LOVE offering.  At the hearing, the BBC said that there was     no evidence to demonstrate exactly how much money had actually     been collected for the LOVE offering.  4.  Mr Akshar's testimony had been included in the item to illustrate     another example of the London Church's lack of accountability.     The London Church had been aware of Mr Akshar's worries for some     time:  he had, over a three-year period, written and made oral     approaches on several occasions to Mr Partington and other     leaders about his worries over Church finances, and he had given     exactly the same evidence four months before the broadcast, in     Carlton Television's programme Beam & DaSilva.  The London Church     leaders had clearly seen the programme, as it had been one of the     reasons why Mr Akshar had been thrown out of the Church.  The     programme-makers had put the matter to Mr Partington and he had     admitted that financial practices in the past might not have been     of an acceptable standard.  At the hearing, the BBC said that the     London Church had claimed that they had "strict financial     procedures"; but Mr Mackay, a former treasurer of the London     Church, had denied the existence of any such control and his     testimony had been supported by other former members.  The London     Church had produced statements from evangelists claiming that the     poor contribution had been banked properly, but one of the     evangelists had not been in the country at the relevant time, and     the statements of the others were at odds with those of former     members who were in a position to speak openly about the Church's     practices.  5.  The BBC had been provided with a copy of a computerised "sin     list" from the United States, authenticated by former Church     members, giving intimate details of members' sexual and personal     lives.  The item had not said that such records were kept by the     London Church: the item had, at that point, been describing the     activities of the Church of Christ generally.  However, the     programme-makers had spoken to several witnesses who had acted in     the role of "disciplers" in London and they had admitted that they     had found out the sins and faults of their "disciples" and passed     them on to more senior leaders.  6.  It was the belief of many leading experts in the field, who were     extremely concerned about the effects the Church had on the lives     of the young and the vulnerable, that mind control had a place in     the Church.  That view was held by the Reverend Graham Baldwin,     former chaplain to Kings College, London and an experienced     counsellor, who had studied the subject of mind control and has     helped many former Church of Christ members throughout Britain.      The programme-makers had spoken to psychiatrists, counsellors,     and other specialists in the field, one of whom was honorary     consultant psychiatrist Dr Elizabeth Tylden, recognized as the     leading medical expert in the field.  She had treated eleven     former members and had said that most exhibited profound     personality changes which had, in her view, been a result of the     Church's use of mind-control techniques.  Many former members     had also been interviewed and the Church's own literature had     been studied.  The expert witnesses had concluded that, given     the intensity of the Church's regime, it fell within the     accepted definition of mind control.    Evidence considered by the Commission -------------------------------------  The Commission had before them a letter of complaint from the London Church of Christ, a written statement in answer to the complaint from the BBC, related correspondence, a number of further written representations from the complainants, and comments in response to those representations from the BBC.  A hearing was held and was attended by representatives of the Church, namely Mr John Partington (Church Administrator), Mr Andrew Agerdak (Chairman of the Trustees), and Mr Neville Lee (Vice-Chairman of the Trustees), and by their legal representatives, Mr Andrew Phillips and his assistant Ms Rosamund Smith.  The hearing was also attended by the Reverend Graham Baldwin, Mr Pesh Framjee, Mr Ayman Akshar, and Mr Alisdair Mackay - all invited by the Commission to assist them at the hearing - and by the BBC's representatives.  The Commission read the transcript and viewed a video cassette recording of the programme.   THE COMMISSION'S FINDINGS:  The nub of the complaint from the London Church of Christ was that  Newsnight had mounted an unfair attack on them.  The Commission note that the programme-makers had themselves recognized  the need to give the London Church leadership the opportunity to  respond to the specific criticisms and allegations made against them.   There is notable disagreement about the extent of their efforts to  obtain that response.  A number of telephone calls certainly took place  between the programme-makers and Mr Partington, but the exact content  of these conversations is unclear.  What does seem clear is that the  leader of the London Church had refused to be interviewed and had not  himself offered an alternative spokesman; indeed, the leadership had  appeared generally content to rely on the contributions made by the  American Church.  Significantly, on 15 July 1993, Mr Partington - knowing  by then that the Newsnight would not be filming an interview with him -  did not apparently feel it necessary to do more than give them brief  comments in response to the allegations which they had earlier put to him  over the telephone.  Given this background, the Commission are not  persuaded that there was any unfairness in the item's failure to include  an interview with a spokesman for the London Church of Christ.  On the matter of the back tax, the Commission note that the London  Church had relied on professional advice from a firm of chartered  accountants throughout the period in question.  The Commission can  understand that the tax position of American Evangelists may well have  been less than straightforward; but they find it difficult to understand  how the London Church can have been unaware of the PAYE liability of  their British employees.  The Commission also share the doubts which  Mr Framjee expressed at the hearing about the validity of the Church's  accounts, which had seemingly failed to disclose the Church's known  liability to back taxes.  The Commission do not doubt that the Inland  Revenue have imposed no extra liability or penalties on the Church in  respect of back tax.  However, on the evidence before them, the  Commission consider that, at the very least, the Church were less open  than they should have been in handling their tax responsibilities.  That  being so, they do not find the item's use of the phrase "less than  truthful" as either clearly inappropriate or unfair in that context.    In the Commission's view, the evidence relating to the Church's use of  alternative names when visiting different places demonstrates a lack of  openness on the Church's part for the phrase to be fairly applicable to  that aspect of their activities as well.  The Commission also finds no unfairness in the item's treatment of the  London Church's benevolent contributions.  Funds raised as part of the  LOVE offering were not included in the Church's accounts and, in the  Commission's opinion, the Church are themselves to blame for the fact  that the LOVE offering was not taken into consideration in the  programme-makers' calculations.  In any event, the LOVE offering was a  distinct project and separate from the general funds collected by the  Church, and the fact remains that in 1990 just one per cent of those  general funds went towards benevolent purposes.  The Commission are satisfied that the broadcasters were justified in  including in the item Mr Akshar's allegation that he had seen Church  leaders remove money from the poor contribution without any  accountability.  The Church argued at the hearing that no money could  have gone astray because strict records had been kept of the  contribution.  Mr MacKay and Mr Akshar both disputed this and the Church  acknowledged that they had not checked the relevant records.  They said  that a large amount of paperwork would have been involved and they had  chosen, instead, to rely on the statements of those who denied Mr  Akshar's allegation.  In the absence of any clearer evidence about  exactly what records were kept at the relevant time and what they proved,  the Commission consider that the system was not as rigorous as the Church  now contend and allowed for the possibility of irregularities.  They  accordingly find no unfairness in regard to this aspect of the complaint.  Although the London Church did discuss their members' sins as part of  the "discipling" process and, according to former members they attached  considerable weight to this, they did not maintain a computerised "sin  list" such as the American list presented in the item.  The item did  not specifically state that they did so but, in the Commission's view,  the implication was there.  This was marginally unfair.  As to the allegation relating to mind-control, sleep deprivation and  restriction of people's diet, there was ample evidence from the testimony  of former members and from psychiatrists and other recognised authorities  on the subject to justify the item's treatment.  No unfairness therefore  arises in that respect.  Overall, the Commission do not uphold the complaint  Adjudication signed by  Canon Peter Pilkington Mr A G Christopher Mr D G Allen Ms J Leighton Baroness Dean