On Thursday 13 April 2023, JW LEAKS received a direct email from Mr Daniel Scott of Peake Legal Solicitors, on behalf of one of his Australian-based clients, informing us that documents, relating to…
- the ABC Four Corners program “Bearing Witness” (first aired on 13 September 2021);
- the complaint made by Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia Limited, and the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Australasia) Limited directly to the ABC about the above program;
- the Raglan Kingdom Hall Fire and police correspondence;
- the Bathurst Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses; and
- the complaint and correspondence made by two Jehovah’s Witnesses legal entities to the Australian Communications and Media Authority about the ABC Four Corners program,
…have recently been published on the official government website of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
JW LEAKS extends its gratitude for the exclusive ‘tip off’ to Mr Daniel Scott – whom we understand is an active Jehovah’s Witness and the current lawyer for Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited (his client referred to in the opening paragraph), in addition to also being the lawyer representing Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia Limited, and the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Australasia) Limited.
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The Schedule of documents released
What the documents reveal
The documents released under the Freedom of Information Act by ACMA reveal the extensive lengths that Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia Limited, and the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Australasia) Limited, went to in trying to have the ABC Four Corners program on the Jehovah’s Witnesses
“removed from any website on which it appears and [to] never be rebroadcast.”[Doc 8. Attachment E to complaint – Part 1_Redacted. Item F. Conclusions, “Complaint to ABC …” page 46 of complaint.]
Ironically, they requested that the ABC say sorry for the program.
The documents released evidence the extent, and the lengths of deception, i.e. ‘theocratic warfare’, and potential defamation (libel), that Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited has engaged in while trying to launch their planned “civil proceedings” [email sent obo Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited by Peake Legal to NSW Police, dated 5 November 2021].
The documents also reveal the complete, total and utter failure of Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited to prove or establish any of its complaints in relation to, not just the broadcast itself, but also in relation to comments made by the numerous persons who appeared in the ‘Bearing Witness’ program.
What is of serious concern is that Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited, a company trust, was a party to the original complaint to the ABC. This 46-page complaint [Document 8. Attachment E to complaint – Part 1_Redacted] goes to great lengths in trying to individually and collectively discredit those persons who appeared on the ABC Four Corners program.
Due to the defamatory nature of the written complaint by Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited, JW LEAKS has decided not to publish Document 8 [Doc 8. Attachment E to complaint – Part 1_Redacted – as read in conjunction with – Doc. 9 Attachment E to complaint – Part 2_Redacted].
Instead, we have provided below a link directly to the ACMA website for downloading of all documents in one convenient zip file. (Note: this is an Australian government website).
The actions and conduct of Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited also raise serious questions as to whether they have engaged in massive unlawful breaches of privacy laws and the Australian Privacy Principles, both in the collection of personal and sensitive information, and in the use of this information, in relation to those that appeared as part of the ‘Bearing Witness’ program.
Among those also singled out for criticism and attack included Lisa Flynn of Shine Lawyers and Irwin Zalkin of The Zalkin Law Firm.
We strongly recommend all those that appeared on the ABC Four Corners program ‘Bearing Witness’ seek legal advice in relation to the conduct and actions of Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited, specifically in relation to:
- Defamation (libel) laws in the jurisdictions of Australia and the USA; and
- Privacy laws within Australia (specifically the Information Privacy Principles in the Australian Privacy Act 1988).
According to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, a breach of an Australian Privacy Principle is an ‘interference with the privacy of an individual’ and can lead to regulatory action and penalties.
>>> DOWNLOAD LINK FOR ALL RELEASED COMPLAINT DOCUMENTS (Log 119) <<<
Disclosure: JW LEAKS provided documents and other information, including footage, to ABC Four Corners for use in the ‘Bearing Witness’ broadcast.
The final complaint outcome
On 4 July 2022, ACMA informed the Jehovah’s Witnesses about the outcome of the official investigation into the ABC Four Corners broadcast ‘Bearing Witness’. The correspondence stated in part:
Thank you for your correspondence, received by the ACMA on 13 May 2022, on behalf of Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Australasia) Limited, Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of Australia and Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations, about the compliance of the Four Corners episode, ‘Bearing Witness’, with the ABC Code of Practice 2019 (the Code). I appreciate your patience while the ACMA has considered your clients’ complaint.
We have reviewed the complaint and note that, in summary, it expressed concerns relevant to Standard 2 (Accuracy), Standard 4 (Impartiality), Standard 5 (Fair and Honest Dealing) and Standard 7 (Harm and offence) of the Code.
I appreciate that this matter is of concern to your clients, and I thank you for taking the time to raise it with us.
When we receive a complaint about a broadcast, we weigh up a number of factors to help us decide whether to investigate further.
We have undertaken a detailed assessment of the complaint, a copy of the broadcast, the broadcaster’s response and the relevant rules in the Code. Based on those assessments, we have concluded that there were no issues that raised fundamental concerns with the ABC’s compliance with the Code and we have decided to take no further action.[Doc 15. Email from ACMA to the complainant 4.0.02022_Redacted]
DOWNLOAD FINAL COMPLAINT OUTCOME EMAIL LETTER – pdf
Watch the ABC Four Corners program “Bearing Witness”
Why did the Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited trust get involved?
Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited was established in 1982 to hold title to real property, namely all Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the state of New South Wales (NSW), Australia. The properties are held in trust on behalf of individual congregations and/or beneficiaries.
DOWNLOAD | Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited – pdf
In the ABC Four Corners program footage was shown of the Raglan Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, NSW (see above). This hall is used by the Bathurst Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
DOWNLOAD | Bathurst Congregation legal documents – pdf
Five days after the ABC Four Corners program aired, in the early morning hours of Saturday 18 September 2021, the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Raglan, NSW, was completely destroyed by fire. The premises were not in regular use at the time due to the COVID pandemic.
A crime scene was immediately established by detectives from Chifley Command (Chifley Police District, NSW Police) and an investigation commenced with the assistance of Fire and Rescue NSW and the NSW Rural Fire Service. The investigation is still ongoing.
Image via Facebook
The fire correspondence
On Friday 5 November 2021, some seven weeks after the fire, NSW Police received an email from Peake Legal Solicitors representing Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited. This email exchange is included within the bundle of documents released by ACMA [Doc 10. Attachment E to complaint – Part 3_Redacted].
The email exchange states:
Dear Constable [redacted],
I refer to our telephone conversation this afternoon.
We act on behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited, the legal title holder of the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses premises located in Raglan NSW, which was recently the site of a fire. Our client holds the property on trust for the Bathurst Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is an unincorporated association.
Our client is seeking any information or evidence that the Police have been able to uncover, or conclusions that they have drawn, which tend to establish whether or not the fire was started accidentally or intentionally, and if so by whom. Such evidence is critical to civil proceedings which our client wishes to commence as soon as possible.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
NSW Police did not immediately acknowledge receipt of the email. On the morning of 10 November 2021, NSW Police received a follow up email from Peake Legal Solicitors which stated:
My client [Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited] has also asked me to ensure that the Police are aware, that only days before the Bathurst (Raglan) Kingdom Hall was burned down, an article was published on the ABC news website and a Four Corners report was aired on the ABC, both of which contained inflammatory falsehoods about Jehovah’s Witnesses, which in our view were capable of inciting hatred. The report and news article also featured footage of the Raglan Kingdom Hall.
We look forward to receipt of your advice regarding any evidence the police may have, that the fire was intentionally started.
Detective Senior Constable [redacted] of NSW Police responded to the email that afternoon, stating:
I am aware of the media articles surrounding the Jehovah’s Witnesses featuring the Raglan Kingdom Hall.
The investigation in relation to the circumstances surrounding the fire at the Raglan Kingdom Hall is ongoing.
I can confirm the following-
The email exchange reveals a potential strategy of Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited to launch “civil proceedings” in relation to the ABC Four Corners program ‘Bearing Witness’.
DOWNLOAD | Email exchange between Jehovah’s Witnesses Congregations Limited and NSW Police – pdf
Other notable events after the ‘Bearing Witness’ program aired
On 3 December 2021, the Bathurst Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses was added to the register of the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, thereby agreeing to financially compensate institutional child sexual abuse victims within the Bathurst congregation from 1972 onwards. The official date of registration being 10 December 2021.
The very day before, on 9 December 2021, the Jehovah’s Witnesses submitted a formal ‘complaint’ to the Australian National Office for Child Safety in relation to the ABC Four Corners report that also featured the Bathurst Congregation’s Kingdom Hall.
The complaint stated:
False Media Reports Regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses
On 14 September 2021[sic], the ABC Four Corners report on Jehovah’s Witnesses focused on sensational and unchallenged accounts of hostile ex-Witnesses. The program made false and defamatory statements about the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A number of false representations have arisen based on a gross misinterpretation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse[sic] data that was recklessly and maliciously perpetuated by ABC Four Corners.
DOWNLOAD | Fourth Annual report by Jehovah’s Witnesses in response to the Royal Commission’s Final Report, Recommendation 17.3 – Submitted December 9, 2021 – pdf
About JW Leaks
JW Leaks is about openness, transparency and accountability within the Church of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watch Tower Society.
JW Leaks shines a light on, and holds to account, the Watch Tower Society and those leaders within the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization that disregard or violate the laws of the land, or that cause religious harm to sections of the community.
Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . Proclaimers of “soon” since 1879