27 April 2012

Television Charity Fundraiser Abuse

Giving charity is one of the basic principals of Islam. In fact, Zakat (that which purifies or alms) is one of the five pillars of Islam. Zakat is giving a fixed portion (1/40th) of one's wealth to the poor and needy.

During the holy month of Ramadam, when Muslims fast, they tend to give their Zakat and make more donations. People also tend to donate as a way of asking for forgiveness from God and for good health etc. All this sounds good, except as you would expect, there are people who will exploit the good nature of Muslims and abuse this money.

People of Bangladesh live in abject poverty. The ones who have migrated to the UK feel the need to send money back home. But, instead of focusing on developing their community, the money is used for feeding the poor and building Madrasa (religious school) and Mosques. This does not alleviate the poverty, instead makes the poor more dependant on charity, just like the people in e.g. Ethiopia. A lot of the money is wasted before it even gets to the needy and some are even embezzled.

Tune into any of the countless Asian/Muslim TV channels on the Sky satellite platform and you are likely to find a charity fundraiser programme. During Ramadan, it's every day on every channel of Muslim background. There on your screen, you will see holy-men (yes just men), with their long beards, long gowns, Arab style head gears, pleading with gullible viewers to give their money to charity. Some of them have become TV personalities and household names. The Bengalis will know of one well known person, who is on their TV screen nearly every day. He likes to brag that he is a qualified barrister too! This person was nearly beaten to death by officials at a Bangladeshi airport few years ago. Just goes to show charity alone does not change the people.

Some of the biggest questions are: what are these charities, what do they do, how long have they operated? You will notice most of them are for building projects in the UK, especially to acquire properties or build new ones at a time when they are very expensive.

The donors are asked on TV for any messages, at this point nearly everyone asks these holy-men to pray for them, their family and their dead ones and to ask Allah for salvation. The more you donate the bigger the cheer and pray in the studio! This is the oldest trick in the book. In the villages of Bangladesh, holy-men make a good living doing this! The donors are usually women, so you ask where do they get the money from? The office for national statistic shows nearly all women of Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin of working age are economically inactive i.e. have no earnings. The truth is the money they donate are coming from their state benefits. In fact, I remember one of the holy-men asking the viewers, what is one week's child benefit to you? He was encouraging them to donate their benefit money to people who are more needy, but does that really help the situation, as the benefit money is intended for the recipient. By the way, this does not breach Ofcom rules. Apparently they can say that on TV!

A popular Bengali TV channel, Channel S, held a review show to discuss how much money they have raised during Ramadan. The boss of the channel, Mahee Ferdous Jalil, said £4 million pounds were raised. A caller put it to him that they have collected the Zakat money which the poor have rights to, but now it will not go to them. Mahee Jalil arrogantly ended the conversation with the caller. Ofcom rules states that charity fundraiser cannot be charged for televising the show. But I recall Mr Jalil being challenged by donors on this, his answers were that there are associated costs with the show.

We all know the TV channels will request money from the charity in return for a slot on their channel. If this is not done on paper then it will be a “cash on hand” job! In fact, a Daily Express  report claims “Feroz Khan, the boss of Bangla TV, which is based in Hackney, east London, told our reporter, who was posing as a charity trustee, that fundraising slots for this year’s Ramadan were sold out long ago. A slot for next year could cost £12,000, he said.” He also said his TV channel is not a charity and cannot do free fundraisers! There you have it. If a charity raised £50,000, already a fifth is gone to the TV channel. What a waste? The TV channel is profiting from the proceeds.

Looking through Ofcom's bulletins of breaches, there are countless report of charity fundraisers. Many other fundraisers are breaching the rules but due to difficulties in obtaining evidence, they are not investigated. Below is a list of some of the programmes and channels found to be in breach of Ofcom rules. It looks like Ofcom is powerless to end this mega abuse of people's trust and charity money. Everyone should donate carefully by researching the charity and remembering that online donation can be 'gift aided' to get tax back from the government. This is much wiser, but is not promoted by the holy-men on TV. Potential breaches should be reported to Ofcom, via their website. Viewers should also make their opinions heard on the TV channel and especially by writing to them. They can also write to Bangladesh High Commission in London to request it asks the relevant authorities to investigate the charities dealing in Bangladesh. Some have already done that, but unless more people take actions, the abuse of charity funds will continue, bringing the Bengali community and Islam to disrepute.

Quotes from Ofcom Report:

In Breach: Shah Jalal Mosque and Madrasha appeal (1 August 2010) on Bangla TV From: Ofcom Report

The complainant questioned the legitimacy of the organisation’s charitable status. Bangla TV failed to provide Ofcom with any evidence that it had taken reasonable steps, as required by Rule 10.13, in this instance and the appeal was therefore in breach of this rule.

In relation to the complaint’s concern that Bangla TV had charged Shah Jalal Mosque and Madrasha for the broadcast of the appeal, Ofcom notes that Bangla TV initially said that the charity had paid for the broadcast of advertisements prior to the broadcast appeal, but this had not been a pre-condition for the broadcast of the appeal itself, for which no charge had been made. However, the broadcaster failed to provide Ofcom with all the recordings and information, and we were therefore unable to reach a decision on the matter (see ‘Licence Conditions’, below).”

"Charity appeals that are broadcast free of charge are allowed in programmes provided that the broadcaster has taken reasonable steps to satisfy itself that:

  • the organisation concerned can produce satisfactory evidence of charitable status, or, in the case of an emergency appeal, that a responsible public fund has been set up to deal with it; and
  • the organisation concerned is not prohibited from advertising on the relevant medium.”

In Breach: Charity appeal for Shah Jalal Mosque and Madrasha on ATN Bangla UK, 11 and 12 August 2010 From: Ofcom Report

As stated in the Code, “a sponsored programme … is a programme that has had some or all of its costs met by a sponsor with a view to promoting its … activities, services … or any other … interest…

In particular, Ofcom noted that, as detailed in the agreement, payment by Shah Jalal Mosque and Madrasha had been made to the broadcaster in return for the provision of the following items:

  • live studio facilities, the set, props and the presenter used in the broadcast charity appeal;
  • production of the associated documentary, broadcast on six occasions in and around the broadcast charity appeal; and
  • production of the additional (brief) appeals and programme trails, broadcast on 17 occasions as programming (not advertising).

These costs appeared to Ofcom to be programme costs met with a view to promoting its activities and interests within the broadcast charity appeals, to raise funds for its Islamic Cultural Centre. Ofcom therefore concluded that the broadcast charity appeals, and all the material broadcast in association with them, were sponsored by Shah Jalal Mosque and Madrasha.”

In Breach: Appeal for Manchester Muslim Centre and Mosque on NTV, 27 August 2009 From: Ofcom Report 

Broadcasters may choose to transmit charity appeals free of charge, and generally, in such circumstances, they may briefly acknowledge by name individuals’ or organisations’ donations to a broadcast appeal, without this raising Code issues. However, broadcasters should note that the provision of such brief acknowledgements should not be a condition of making a donation, and any acknowledgements remain subject to relevant Code rules – in particular, Rule 10.4.

In this case, it was unclear to Ofcom whether NTV’s reference to “the organisation in question” referred to the Manchester Muslim Centre and Mosque or the businesses that had made donations to the appeal. In any event, Ofcom was unclear how crediting the donations of the specific businesses verified the nature of the service(s) provided by either.

In Ofcom’s view, there appeared to be no editorial justification for screening donation credits repeatedly in a ‘loop’ for well over two and a quarter hours during the four hour period that we monitored. The organisations listed in these credits were therefore given undue prominence, in breach of Rule 10.4 of the Code.

In addition, there appeared to be no editorial justification for screening either full or partial postal addresses of the organisations concerned, which merely promoted them in the programme, in breach of Rule 10.3 of the Code.

Ofcom therefore welcomed NTV’s assurance that it would not broadcast similar messages in future. However, we noted that the broadcaster had previously been found in breach of Rule 10.4 of the Code, as recorded in Broadcast Bulletin 138 on 20 July 2009 (-1-). In light of the repeated breach recorded in this Finding, Ofcom is putting the broadcaster on notice that it has serious concerns about NTV’s compliance procedures. Breach of Rules 10.3 and 10.4

In Breach: Appeal for Somers Town Islamic Cultural & Education Centre on Bangla TV, 27 August 2009  From: Ofcom Report

In this case, however, Bangla TV did not acknowledge in the programme donators to the broadcast appeal, but businesses that had previously funded the featured charity’s advertisements on the channel. Ofcom also noted that some sponsors of Somers Town Islamic Cultural & Education Centre’s advertising campaign appeared to have been given less broadcast exposure in the programme than others (in the material we monitored, the organisations were Al Safa Hajj Group and Loyla Urgent Poor Help), the reason for which was unclear.

In Breach: Appeals for funds for programmes on Glory TV, 1, 7 and 9 January 2009 From: Ofcom Report 
During each appeal the presenters talked to callers who had pledged money. They also read psalms, sang hymns, told anecdotes and made further appeals to viewers to donate. The presenters also occasionally informed viewers about what their donations would be used for.

Ofcom further noted that during appeals for funds broadcast on Glory TV, some of the statements the presenters used to encourage viewers to donate suggested that if viewers made generous donations to the channel, they would receive financial and other “blessings” as a result. For example:

There are many brothers and sisters who can give five hundred or one thousand pounds, even two, three, or four thousand pounds and let us tell you that you will definitely be blessed”; and

…on the Day of Judgement we will be answerable to everything we did.

Ofcom therefore asked Glory TV for its comments with regards to Rule 4.6 of the

Code: “Religious programmes must not improperly exploit the susceptibilities of the audience.

Application form for Live Appeal Showing Charges:

Download ATN Bangla 'Charity Appeal Application Form' here. At the end of page two is a request for 50% of booking fee!

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