Australian Critics of Scientology
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Law body slams ABA ruling as illogical and incorrect

Liars' Club press release 02 Jul 1996


July 2, 1996

Law body slams ABA vilification ruling as illogical and incorrect

Australia's leading law body on media, the Communications Law Centre (CLC), has disagreed with the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) over a recent finding of religious vilification by Melbourne public broadcaster 3RRR-FM.

In the first such ruling in Australian broadcast history, the ABA charged in February 1996 that Triple R had breached Radio Program Standards on The Liars' Club by gratuitously vilifying the Church of Scientology, after an ex-scientologist, Cyril Vosper, appeared as a guest and told of his problems since leaving the organisation.

After the ruling, Triple R management immediately axed the program, which took a sceptical look at cults, pseudo-sciences and shonky business schemes.

The CLC states in their intensive review of the lengthy ABA report:

We consider the ABA's interpretation of the meaning of 'gratuitous' is incorrect. At no point in the decision does the ABA consider any of the controversies that have surrounded the church and whether there was any validity in Vosper's allegations.

Discussion and criticism of religious institutions and the conduct of followers of a religion can be distinguished from criticism and abuse of a religion and its followers on the basis of beliefs. For example, widespread allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated within Catholic institutions, debates about the ordination of woman, celibacy and homosexuality within the clergy and allegations of terrorism by so-called Islamic extremists involve discussions of religious institutions and conduct, rather than tenets of faith, and do not habitually give rise to accusations of vilification.

It is true that the ABA is not in a position to pass judgement on the church or to make findings about the truth or otherwise of the allegations, but this does not prevent it from acknowledging that the church has been the subject of debate and controversy, and that therefore, the allegations, when situated within this context, and in the context of Vosper's ongoing public stance against the church, were not gratuitous.

We consider that the ABA's finding that [program presenter] Joseph's conduct amounted to religious vilification is incorrect on the following grounds: * The major flaw in the ABA's reasoning and decision is that it is impossible to locate the speech which constituted the religious vilification. Given that the ABA was applying a standard that restricts speech and that its decision censures speech, the offending material should have been clearly designated.

Even assuming that the ABA's approach is correct - and we do not - in order for the presenter to vilify by his conduct of the interview (as opposed to his words), there must have been vilifying speech to which the conduct relates.

In this case, the ABA decided that Vosper's comments did not amount to vilification. Therefore it is illogical that vilification occurred once Joseph "converted" Vosper's views into ones that had the "licensee's apparent support and confirmation". If, as the ABA decided, Vosper's words did not gratuitously vilify, then there were no "warning bells" telling Joseph not to endorse vilification or allow it to continue.

In conclusion, we consider that the ABA's decision has serious implications for free speech and that 3RRR should inform the ABA of its concerns and criticisms.

It is believed that Triple R will now be approaching the ABA for a review of its ruling citing the points made by the CLC. Whilst the ABA has no appeal process, another flaw pointed out, a review of an earlier decision can hand down a new one that nullifies the previous. The CLC have also suggested that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal would be another preferable form of review of this type of decision, because it can review decisions on their merits.

A formal complaint against the handling of this matter by the Program Services department of the ABA has been filed with Mr. Peter Webb, ABA Chairman.

In a recent media release, the Church of Scientology used the ABA decision to target the former Liars' Club presenter, Adam Joseph, in a manner that portrayed him as partial and goading in his interviewing style and not giving the church an opportunity to respond. This was done with a clever stringing together of the 'juiciest' bits from the ABA's lengthy report, and as such, extremely out of context. Fortunately, most media outlets in Australia are aware of tactics used by the Church of Scientology to silence criticism.

This case is an important issue to all broadcasters and media alike as the ABA currently have on their files a precedent which can serve to quash the valued principles of free speech. The issue was never one to do with religious vilification. To do that would require an attack on the religious beliefs of a group. In this issue, the practices of a group were questioned by an ex-member. The fact that the interviewer felt sympathetic towards what had happened to him does not constitute vilification of any kind. That is the common sense view of the CLC and those in the media who have so far availed themselves of reading the full report.

Anyone wishing to receive a copy of the ABA report can request one from the ABA Sydney office. (02) 334-7700

The CLC report was commissioned by Triple R and inquiries can be made to the CLC. (03) 9248-1278

Any further inquiries: Adam Joseph (03) 9877-2943

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