In an article that ran last May, the UK Mirror accused an Australian organization of being a “Korean ‘sex cult'” that recruited young girls to be “spiritual brides” for a convicted rapist. The organization, the Christian Gospel Mission in Australia (also known as the Providence and Jesus Morning Star), complained to the UK press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation over many aspects of the article. However, IPSO ended up rejecting the mission’s complaint.
The Mirror‘s May 20, 2016 article was headlined, “Korean ‘sex cult’ plucking girls off street to be ‘spiritual brides’ for rapist who claims to be Messiah.” The group’s leader, Jung Myung-seok, was indeed convicted and sentenced to prison in 2008 for rape, Reuters reported at the time, noting that he “fled to China from South Korea in 2001 where he had been charged with selecting followers from photographs and then forcing them to have sex with him.”
iMediaEthics has written to the Mirror and to Jung through his website for comment.
The mission denied many of the major claims in the article, including that it recruited followers, that recruits were “brainwashed into ‘sexual devotion’ towards Mr Jung, and were ‘delivered’ to him in prison,” that Jung sent sexual letters and that targeted women were “encouraged” to send photographs of themselves in bikinis to Jung, IPSO reported. It also denied claims about the church made by university lecturer Peter Daley, especially those related to sleep deprivation and families. Daley, who has spent a decade studying the mission, was cited in the Mirror‘s story.
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The mission also denied that the Mirror ever contacted its main office for comment. The newspaper acknowledged, during the IPSO investigation, that this was a fair complaint because the reporters contacted the wrong church and didn’t realize this fact until the complaint was filed. The Mirror offered to post an update to its article that would include the mission’s denial of some of the claims, but the mission wasn’t satisfied. Some denials are currently posted at the bottom of the article and read:
“The Christian Gospel Mission denies recruiting women and delivering them to Jung Myung-seok in jail for sex. The church has also previously denied being a cult or teaching that its leader is the Messiah.”
IPSO noted that the Mirror “had taken care” to distance itself from the reporting by clearly labeling claims and allegations and crediting them to whomever said them. Because the Mirror did that and added an acknowledgement in the article that the mission denied being a cult, IPSO ruled that the newspaper’s initial failure to get a comment from the mission was not grounds for accepting the complaint.