The Broadcasting Complaints Commission--Complaint from the London Church of Christ/Commission's Findings 1993

The Broadcasting
Complaints Commission

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R. M Hargreaves



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

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 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

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

The BBC made the following statements in answer to the specific

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

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 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

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