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The Story Behind the Controversy
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How the Media are used to create intolerance

Media images
Media images depicting religious movements as vermin are used to stir up prejudices against them.

ne of the first authoritative expertises on new religions in Germany was published in March 1980 by the renowned psychologist and professor, Dr. Georg Sieber. After reading numerous articles that reported the government’s and clerical sect experts’ warnings about the alleged “dangerousness” of new religions, Sieber wanted to know the truth.

He wanted to teach his students independent verification and thinking. To test the veracity of the official reports he appealed through mass communication channels for citizens with knowledge of abuses by such groups to come forward.

His appeal reached 20 million people—one third of the entire population. Yet, he received not a single response.

Sieber’s conclusion was that public opinion had been manipulated against new religions by vested interests and the media, and he recommended that in future all publications regarding new religions be based on actual, verified data.

History shows that clever government operatives routinely use the media as a Machiavellian weapon to bring about their objectives.

Whether the targeted religion was the Jews, the Christian Scientists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Seventh-Day Adventists, or any other group, the media was used to flank the government’s attacks with inflammatory, sensationalized reports.

These stories were all false, of course. And no one believes them now.

Yet today, the government expects us to believe media stories that are sensationalized and never give the targets of the stories an opportunity to present their side of events. These modern media reports stereotype members of new religions, even though they are as good German citizens as any others. Thus, well-meaning citizens have been manipulated into accepting cliches about new religions.

On the one hand, government officials are using the press to spread their legally unfounded allegations. On the other hand, they then use this press as “evidence” to justify even tougher measures.

A recent report, published in several German media, illustrates how this works. A survey reported by the FORSA Opinion Research Institute found that 63 percent of Germans had heard of a particular group and of that number, 90 percent had formed a negative impression. Yet statistics show that even if everybody in Germany who had first-hand experience of the group had forwarded their knowledge to five other people, only 1.35 percent of our total population would have heard of the group. Logically, the remaining 61.65 percent must therefore have obtained their information, and their negative impressions, from the media.

The bias already created among the media is demonstrated by the following facts and simple arithmetic:

  • In September 1994, Federal Minister of Labor Norbert Bluem made a public statement viciously condemning the Scientology religion by spewing forth false allegations against the Church that had been fully investigated and rejected only three months previously by one of the government’s own prosecutors. Despite the totally unfounded nature of Bluem’s accusations, his announcement resulted in more than 300 media articles across Germany repeating his libelous statements without challenge.

  • On October 1, 1993, the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Church of Scientology ended 40 years of conflict when the IRS ruled that the Church of Scientology International and more than 150 of its affiliated churches and social reform organizations in the United States were entitled to tax exemption. The Church in Germany promptly informed the media by sending out 500 press releases. The result: two articles, each consisting of two sentences, and a third article which added gratuitous innuendo to the report.

  • On June 17, 1994, a penal investigation into the Church of Scientology was dismissed after three years of intensive investigation by the senior state prosecutor in Hamburg. All allegations against the Church were disproven. Case closed. The Church sent out press releases to all major media, which for three years had used the ongoing investigation and horrendous allegations to report negatively on the Church. The result? A single article in a Hamburg newspaper. And even that article reported not about the dismissal of the case, but falsely stated the investigation was continuing!

Generalities Instead of Facts

Experience shows that media reports on Scientology are riddled with generalities instead of facts, twisted and one-sided, even though the Church has made extensive efforts to provide newspapers, radio and television with accurate information. All German media have received copies of the 800-page book, What is Scientology?, which contains all relevant information about the subject. Yet the many false reports continue to circulate. The Church regularly sends out press releases, booklets and news of court decisions recognizing Scientology as a religion to the media. Yet, if you have read about Scientology in the press, but until now had not known of these, it is because the media is not free to objectively report all such information but is conditioned to forward exclusively negative reports.

Media images

It is a disturbing fact that no journalist and no politician speaks out against children being kicked out of kindergarten and schools just because their parents are Scientologists. Democracy is based on the principle of majority rule. That always contains the danger of a majority dictating over a minority. It is a venerable duty of the press to allow the minority to speak out in such a conflict and to champion constitutional and human rights. If the press denies minorities, then by experience we know we are well on the way to suppression of sections of society. All that is left to them is recourse to the courts.

This impacts in a very real way on the lives of Church parishioners. To take one example out of hundreds: In September 1994, a Scientologist businessman, Mr. A., who happened to belong to the Christian Democratic Union, became the target of a media smear campaign over a private building project he was engaged in in his little home town. A local politician seeking election discovered the Scientologist’s CDU membership, announced it to the press and then exploited it as his campaign platform, claiming that the Church of Scientology planned to take over the entire community. In fact, a) the project was purely personal and had absolutely nothing to do with the Church of Scientology; and b) apart from Mr. A., only a single Scientologist lived in the area.

The media went to work. Approximately 30 newspaper articles and five TV shows fanned the fires of bigotry. In the midst of the hysteria, Federal Minister of Labor Norbert Bluem involved himself in this local conflict and announced that Mr. A.’s membership in the CDU should be revoked. In December 1994, it was. The campaign substantially injured Mr. A.’s livelihood, and only through hard work and the dedicated efforts of his family and friends was he able to avoid bankruptcy.

The Church of Scientology owns only one property in all of Germany, and contrary to the established churches, is not at all active in the area of real estate. However, about 40 Scientologists (out of 30,000) in Germany are self-employed in the area of real estate. They broker property sales and rentals and some also buy apartment buildings which they then convert into ownership condominiums. This is a common real estate practice across the country. It has never been at the center of a media campaign because people are generally happy with the arrangements. If tenants decide to use their money to buy the apartment instead of rent it, they end up owning the property rather than ending up with nothing.

One organization that is not satisfied, however, is the affluent Hamburg Tenants’ Association, reportedly a stronghold of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). The reasons for its discontent are not hard to find. Plainly, every time a tenant decides to buy his own home, he ceases to be a tenant and becomes a property owner. Not only does this mean that his membership in the 30,000-member Association will cease and he will no longer pay fees, but in future, as a homeowner, his political views may change.

The Tenants’ Association has found a formula that played well to the media: Never mind that it’s false, simply accuse the Scientologists of being infiltrators in the real estate market on behalf of the Church of Scientology and claim that they control 50 percent to 80 percent of this market. Together with SPD member and Scientology-basher Ursula Caberta (See “Exposing Hatemongers at Work”), the Association subsequently called for a boycott of all Scientologists engaged in real estate.

Incited by the opportunity to eradicate the Scientologist competitors and take over their share of the market, the RDM (Association of Real Estate Agents) have joined the propaganda frenzy on the side of Caberta and her tenants’ group. The story ran in all major Hamburg newspapers.

Of 22,000 real estate agents in Germany, perhaps 40 are Scientologists. Media reports, manipulated by vested interests, that those 40 people control 50 percent to 80 percent of the entire real estate market are ridiculous. Were they true, it would be a scathing commentary on the lack of business acumen of the 99.72 percent who are not Scientologists. That would be a newsworthy story!

Those 40 Scientologists represent 0.13 percent of the membership of the Church in Germany. Media reports that the bulk of Scientologists are real estate agents, and that through them the Church is buying up vast quantities of property in Germany, are verifiably false by logic and statistic. The Church of Scientology is funded solely through donations made by members for religious services they receive. It has no state funding. In 1989, the Church’s donations system was described by the Frankfurt Regional Court, which compared it to the customary church tax system, as “possibly fairer than the demand of a lump-sum percentage of a member’s income.”

By far the largest non-governmental real estate owners in the country are the Catholic and Lutheran Churches, which together own 4 billion square meters of real estate. They profit greatly from their property holdings and real estate transactions.

Boycott Violates Scientologists’ Rights

The works of Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, have been translated into upwards of 30 languages, with more than 100 million copies sold. In lands as far apart as the United States, Japan, Russia, Australia, China and Germany, millions of people have achieved a better life for themselves and their friends through Mr. Hubbard’s work.

The hypocrisy, therefore, of a boycott against Scientologists who work in real estate is readily apparent. It is motivated by business interests and is in violation of the constitutionally protected rights of German citizens who have done no wrong. Meanwhile, more than 6 million criminal acts are committed yearly by members of the Lutheran and Catholic churches, atheists and members of other associations. Does media attention immediately focus on the religious affiliation of these criminals? No. Did the media pounce upon the religion of Jurgen Schneider, the developer who went bankrupt and fled Germany owing billions of DMs to Deutsche Bank and others, as the cause of his downfall?

To this date, no one knows if Schneider was a Catholic or Lutheran.

Since its arrival in Germany in 1970, the Church has been the target of numerous investigations, invariably on the basis of trumped-up charges put out by bigoted state church representatives alarmed at the rapidly expanding Church of Scientology in contrast to their own declining membership, or by political opportunists. They all came and went. They left behind damage to families, businesses and the community which are difficult to undo.

What, in that case, is the truth about Scientology?

It has been correctly stated that if even one hundredth of the things that have been written about Scientology in the press were accurate, the Church would not keep growing, let alone exist. Nobody would be interested. Yet the Church of Scientology has been growing for more than 40 years and its members have remained loyal, in itself evidence that the accusations are not truthful.

The works of Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, have been translated into upwards of 30 languages, with more than 100 million copies sold. In lands as far apart as the United States, Japan, Russia, Australia, China and Germany, millions of people have achieved a better life for themselves and their friends through Mr. Hubbard’s work. As you read this, somewhere an individual is using the Study Technology Mr. Hubbard developed to acquire skills that for the first time, open to him the doors of life. Somebody is ridding himself of a years-long compulsion to abuse drugs through the Narconon program, based on Mr. Hubbard’s discoveries about drug rehabilitation. Through Scientology religious counseling, another person is discovering that he really is a spiritual being, that his abilities far exceed what he had envisioned for himself, and that it is possible to be happy.

Scientology works. Through its use, millions have achieved a better life for themselves, their families and friends. That is a fact that thousands of column inches of negative press will never be able to alter.
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