CHRISTIAN GOSPEL MISSION AGAINST HERALD ON SUNDAY

Case Number: 2599

Council Meeting: JULY 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Herald On Sunday

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1. The complaint relates to an article published on May 20, 2017 in the Herald on Sunday (HoS) headlined “Kiwi women targeted by religious group hunting brides for convicted rapist”.

2. The article centred on interviews with two women, whose identities were protected, and their experience with the Christian Gospel Mission (CGM) - which they knew by another name - and its jailed leader Jung Myung Seok.

3. It included the views and experiences of Auckland University chaplain Carolyn Kelly, Presbyterian Reverend Wayne Toleafoa and a Massey University professor and specialist in religious history Peter Lineham.

4. The CGM has complained that the publication did not fact check its article nor allow an opportunity for balance by the CGM before or after publication. It could have used material readily available online to help present a more balanced article.

5. It asserts breaches of Principle 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance) and Principle 12 (corrections).

The Complaint

7. Christian Gospel Mission complained that the article was inaccurate including its claims of sexual exploitation of young women.

8. The CGM did not believe its pastor Jung was a serial rapist or a sexual predator. He was wrongfully convicted in South Korea and the subject of an injustice. If the reporter had made “objective inquiries he would have come to know that this is the view of CGM members worldwide regarding Pastor Jung’s conviction”.

9. The CGM does not believe in sexual exploitation but encourages a pure life and abstention from sexual immorality.

10. The experts quoted had little interaction with the CGM and no understanding of its members’ faiths and beliefs.

11. The CGM had a history of negative and incorrect reporting dating back to 1999 in South Korea.

12. The person the reporter approached was not the “Morning Star leader” as the article stated. She was frightened by the reporter’s approach and on further consideration had decided not to meet him.

13. The complaint took issue with other specific matters in the article, including

1.Describing women as “taken” to Korea. It said the trips were undertaken willingly and no-one was “asked to fly” to Seoul to visit Jung in prison. Visitors make a request themselves to visit Jung.

2.Saying that Jung “fled” to Taiwan and Hong Kong. He left before accusations were made.

3. That the name of the organisation is rightly the Christian Gospel Mission. It is not Jesus Morning Star as referred to in the article.

4. A claim by Kelly that not Jesus, but Joshua Jung, was at the centre of its belief system was wrong.

5. Lineham’s view that the CGM links sex and spirituality and sees sex as the final consummation with God was wrong.

6. More men, children and the elderly and other groups are members of the church than young women and so it is impossible, as the article claims, that it seeks to “sexually exploit young women”.

7. That the CGM does not “recruit” members but evangelises and the use of the term was malicious and inaccurate.

8. That the article incorrectly referred to the CGM offering modelling “contracts”.

9. That one of the sources of the story was “made to wake up at 3am”. The CGM’s position was that members pray in the predawn hours by their own preference.

10. It is wrong to say the CGM encourages people to cut family ties.

11. The use of the term “reapers” relates to another church.

12. It is wrong to say Jung was a former member of the Unification Church. He was not, though he visited it briefly in 1975.

The Response

14. In response on behalf of the editor of the HoS deputy editor Stuart Dye said the newspaper stood by its article.

15. It reflected the concerns of two organisations and two individuals about a religious organisation and its tactics. The university and the Presbyterian Church were concerned and issued warnings as did Lineham.

16. CGM’s leader was serving a prison sentence for raping and molesting followers.

17. In response to the individual points (paragraph 13) above he stood by the claim its source was asked to fly to Seoul (point 1). The wording did not imply force.

18. Dye offered to remove “fled” (point 2) and add a correction.

19. The organisation used numerous names (point 3) and this was reflected in the story. Jesus Morning Star was the name the newspaper’s sources knew it as.

20. Points 4 and 5 - about Jung being at the centre of the organisation’s belief system and its links between sex and spirituality - were Lineham’s and Kelly’s views.

21. Having members from all ages and genders (point 6) does not preclude the sexual exploitation of women.

22. Recruiting (point 7) was the correct word to use for approaching people asking them to join.

23. He accepted the modelling offers were not “contracts” (point 8) and agreed to correct it online. (It should be noted CGM were unhappy with the correction to “offering work for modelling agencies” because it said it had never run or been affiliated with any modelling agencies.)

24. The word “told” was changed to “ask” (point 9) within hours of publication.

25. It was widely reported Jung was a member of the Unification Church (point 12).

26. The claims of exploitation were made by the two women and backed by a respected academic.

27. The HoS had approached the CGM for a response to all the allegations. It had made numerous attempts to contact spokespeople. The member approached, who it had been told was a leader, had arranged to meet and talk but had not kept an appointment.

28. It seemed she had not offered the right person to talk to nor passed on the request to the relevant person.

29. HoS had offered to publish a letter to the editor, but in its complaint the CGM said it did not see this as remedying the inaccuracies and imbalance in the piece.

The Decision

Discussion

30. The Council has seen nothing to suggest the newspaper’s account of the experiences of the two women and the views of the experts was portrayed unfairly or inaccurately in any significant way, although as noted the newspaper later made some minor changes of wording.

31. The Council is in no doubt the CGM representative and many of its members believe in the Jung’s innocence, but his convictions and imprisonment are agreed facts. The council - and therefore the newspaper - cannot be expected to substitute the CGM’s beliefs about its leader for the factual record. An in-depth investigation of Jung’s history, behaviour and conviction and the treatment of the church were outside the scope of the article.

32. Nor does reference to the group’s stated beliefs or teachings refute the experiences of those interviewed for the article or make it inaccurate. There are numerous examples of practices that are not “official” policy and may not be condoned - recent revelations of sexual crimes within the Catholic Church being the most obvious.

33. To briefly address some other minor points raised by the complainant (33-35); the argument that having members from all ages and genders makes it impossible that it seeks to sexually exploit young women does not follow logically.

34. The use of the word “recruiting” is entirely appropriate and in common usage to describe of an organisation seeking new members.

35. The HoS mentioned the organisation used other names, including the one known by its interviewees, so the failure to list CGM specifically was not material and did not mis-identify the organisation.

Conclusion

36. It is a core role of the media to examine issues such as this and publish warnings made by individuals and organisations when they are well-sourced and well-grounded as this one was.

37. The HoS believed it had approached a suitable spokesperson for the CGM and had no reason to believe it was wrong. The editor said numerous efforts were made to contact a CGM spokesperson, although he did not provide details.

38. Had the HoS subsequently refused to offer the CGM a right of reply, the Council may have taken a different view on whether the need for balance had been met. But theHoS had offered to publish a letter to the editor from CGM, but this was declined by CGM. That is its right, but it undercuts the complaint of lack of balance.

39. The Principle 1 complaint on the grounds of inaccuracy, fairness and balance is not upheld.

40. Similarly, the complaint on the grounds of Principle 12 corrections is not upheld.

41. The relevant parts of the principle state that significant errors should be promptly corrected with fair prominence and that it may be appropriate to offer an apology and a right of reply. The publication made some minor corrections, as noted above in the editor’s response, in reaction to the CGM’s points but the council does not believe significant errors remain uncorrected.

42 As stated in 38, the HoS offered a right of reply to CGM via a letter to the editor, where it could have corrected the record from its point of view. That was rejected by the CGM.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.