New Risk That Televangelists Will Be Tempted to Exploit the Vulnerable for Cash

Televangelists who make appeals for money on TV should be licensed to avoid exploitation, says the National Secular Society (NSS).

Responding to a consultation by the media regulator Ofcom, the NSS says that the proposal to relax the rules that have, up until now, forbidden the raising of funds by appealing to viewers will open the way for US-style televangelists to manipulate and exploit the vulnerable.

Terry Sanderson, vice president of the NSS and its media spokesperson, said that the prospect of opening up television to religious fundraisers was dangerous. “We oppose this in principle, and are convinced that regulators will rue the day they reverse the current ban as far as religious fundraising is concerned.

We fear however that Ofcom is minded to lift the ban, and if they do so we think that strict safeguards should be applied. We have recommended that those who want to make financial appeals on television should be licensed so that if they break the rules that apply to such activities, their licence can be revoked. We do not want to see the kind of large-scale fraud and exploitation that has happened in the United States, where televangelists build vast empires from money-raising on their programmes.”

Mr Sanderson said that at least three high-profile American televangelists had been jailed because of fraud in relation to the money raised through television appeals. “These ruthless people use all kinds of techniques to get money – promising cures for illness, freedom from ‘evil spirits’ and increased wealth if money is donated. Although Ofcom forbids the use of these kinds of methods, we need some kind of enforcement system – and ensuring that anyone wanting to raise money on TV is licensed. If complaints are raised against them, then the licence should be removed.”

Ofcom’s own consultation paper contains (in Annex 6) instances of religious channels on digital TV abusing codes of practice. The NSS, in its response, has pointed out other instances of religious broadcasters repeatedly breaking the rules, despite being warned repeatedly by regulators.

Terry Sanderson commented: “Raising money for religion in this way puts all kinds of temptations in the way of those who want to do it. The American experience shows that they don’t always resist that temptation.”