Revelation TV: Britain’s first televangelist station facing investigation into misuse of funds

Charity Commission received complaints the station was being used for 'private advantage'

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The Independent Online

The foundation behind Britain’s first Christian televangelist TV channel is being investigated by the charities regulator over claims it is being used for private gain.

The Charity Commission has opened an inquiry into the Revelation Foundation, whose 24-hour channel Revelation TV has previously been censured by Ofcom over its presenters’ “derogatory” comments about gay people.

Launched by husband-and-wife duo Howard and Lesley Conder in 2003, the channel has most of its operations in Spain and is broadcast in the UK via Sky, Freesat and Freeview. It includes programmes such as Christian World News, Stand Up for Jesus and Adventists in Conversation.

The statutory investigation, which was opened on 8 September but only announced this week, is the most serious form of inquiry available to the Charity Commission. It said it had decided to launch the probe after receiving a number of complaints that the charity was being used for “private advantage”.

In a statement, the regulator said it had scrutinised the Revelation Foundation’s accounts and had identified a number of concerns including “potential significant loss of charitable funds, trustee benefits, conflicts of interest and connected party transactions”.

The investigation will examine the charity’s structure, including its relationship with several commercial organisations, as well as its fundraising. According to its 2013 accounts, the charity had an income of £1.7m, almost entirely generated through viewers’ donations. It employs five people and has 20 volunteers.

According to a statement on its website, the Revelation Foundation’s trustees “are all committed Bible-believing Christians with a vision for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ through television and other electronic media”.

Revelation TV achieved a major breakthrough in 2007 when it won the right to directly solicit funds from viewers, a practice which had previously been prohibited under Ofcom regulations.

The channel is no stranger to controversy, having been censured five times by the regulator between 2004 and 2009. Among the upheld complaints were the use of offensive language to describe homosexuals and the use of graphic images of aborted foetuses in an item aired before a children’s programme.

Revelation TV moved outside Ofcom’s jurisdiction in 2010 and is now licensed in Spain, although it still has a studio in Surbiton, Surrey. It is currently regulated by the Audiovisual Council of Andalucia but continues to be broadcast in Britain.

In 2012, the channel’s office manager Susie Gray said it had moved to Spain due to the overwhelming volume of complaints it was receiving in the UK. “It wasn’t really the fact that the complaints were being upheld, it was just the amount of paperwork that it generated to have so many complaints. We felt people were working against us for the sake of it,” she told the Surrey Comet.

In a statement on its website, the Revelation Foundation said it welcomed the Charity Commission investigation and would cooperate fully while it took place.

“Since learning in May of the complaints the commission has received, the foundation has re-examined its internal processes and consulted external accountants and lawyers to ensure that it is run according to the highest standards of integrity and care,” it read. “In particular, there has been no loss or misapplication of charitable funds.”

When contacted by The Independent, the Foundation’s chairman Gordon Pettie – who also presents three programmes on Revelation TV – said it was “absolutely terrible” that the Charity Commission had publicly announced an investigation into the charity which he felt that “by innuendo” people might interpret as a suggestion that it was guilty of wrongdoing.

“We’re a Christian TV station and the very nature of being a Christian TV station means that integrity and honesty are important criteria for us,” he added. “What worries me is the effect that this will have on people who’d look to us for encouragement and help in the building of their faith.”

Revelation TV's Fresh Prince moment

One of Revelation TV’s spin-off channels, Genesis TV, made international headlines in 2010 when a prankster fooled one of its presenters into reading out the lyrics from the theme tune to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, in the mistaken belief that they were a viewer’s story of personal salvation.

“One day a couple of guys who were up to no good starting making trouble in my living area. I ended up getting into a fight, which terrified my mother,” the host recited, without realising the parallels with Will Smith’s famous rap during the 1990s sitcom’s opening credits. A YouTube video clip of the prank has since been viewed more than 1.1 million times.

Later in the same programme, the unfortunate presenter fell foul of another prank email, this time with striking similarities to the plot of Star Wars. “My inspiration in life is a man I met in Nigeria called Ben Kenobi,” it began. “He taught be so much about the Force that spirituality has; it can be used for good and it can be used for bad.”