David Splane, of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, visited the branch office (Bethel) in Portugal at the beginning of November 2015.
The purpose of such a cyclical visit is usually to gather information and to check on whether the Branch is operating in compliance with Governing Body guidelines.
David Splane brought news of changes in the organizational structure. He confirmed the rumors of cuts in personnel at Bethel and the removal of special pioneers, both in Portugal and other Portuguese-speaking countries.
The numbers of those being “released” – sacked, or made redundant – as a result of downsizing is significant. About 30% of Bethelites will have to leave the Portuguese Bethel family and return to ‘serve’ in their former congregations. Similarly, many special pioneers scattered within Portugal and the Islands will be surplus to requirements. The Islands include Madeira, The Azores, Cape Verde and São Tomé e Príncipe.
It must be disheartening to lose a “lifetime career” having complied with the demand to put first the kingdom of God. No doubt many felt safe under the protective wing of the parent organization, recently re-branded as JW dot org.
David Splane made the announcements on Sunday, 1st November 2015 (via internet streaming from Bethel in Carnaxide), to almost 50,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the Portuguese territory and African countries where Portuguese is the official language.
Splane’s visit to Portugal and speech coincided with a major documentary entitled “In the Shadow of Sin” broadcast on the Portuguese Reporter TVI channel by the investigative journalist Ana Leal.
The documentary shown on the 18th October explored, for the first time on Portuguese TV, the impact of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ damaging child abuse policies, their response to domestic violence and other harmful practices.
The documentary prompted many watching Jehovah’s Witnesses who immediately felt betrayed to call Bethel asking questions. They were told the documentary was apostate lies.
Here is the documentary, now for the first time with English subtitles…
Early on in Splane’s speech, he mentioned reports that “speak evil” of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Clearly the purpose of this warning was to calm the fears of his audience who had been disturbed by the documentary shown at prime time on Portuguese TV.
In an attempt at deflecting attention away from the issues of child molestation and other abuses raised in the documentary, David Splane suggested that it is bad journalism to seek only one side of the story.
His comments appeared to be a direct reference to the TVI Reporter documentary and the main investigative journalist Ana Leal.
Splane said, “after all, there are always two sides to the story and a journalist who does not seek to check the facts, hearing only one side is not a professional. A journalist that operates in that way just wants to get a sensational story and, therefore, it will be a bad story, not a factual story.”
Of course, good journalistic practice and ethics demand that both sides of a story should be presented, so that the reader, watcher or curious lurker can draw their conclusions.
What David Splane omitted to tell the almost 50,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses who were listening in, is that the documentary was the responsibility of the well-known and award-winning journalist Ana Leal. He failed to inform his audience not only that the journalist sought the help of Jehovah’s Witnesses by contacting Bethel so that a counter view could be made to the gathered content. He also neglected to mention that she had made videos and transcripts available for comment before the broadcast, and also contacted various congregations inviting them to participate.
She was keen to share positive experiences of what it means to be a Jehovah’s Witness.
David Splane’s speech was disingenuous in attempting to raise doubts as to the credibility of the journalist. But his intentions were clear from his statement “… and so we usually leave things as they are, and let the story die.”
Bethel in Portugal did not provide any statements or offer any comment “contradicting or confirming,” the testimonies or stories within the documentary. All Jehovah’s Witnesses contacted refused to speak or take part.
This fact was made clear at the end of the documentary. TVI’s commentator, Judith de Sousa, stated:
“TVI tried to speak to the Jehovah’s Witness organization about all these charges, but they declined the invitation to take part.”
The journalist Ana Leal was not pleased at David Splane’s shabby attempt at undermining her journalistic integrity.
After listening to Splane’s speech, she had this to say:
“It is easy to see the impressive manipulation of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the hands of their leadership. Mr Splane blatantly tried to suggest that a report is partial and biased if both sides of the story are not shared.”
After listening to Splane’s speech and the comments directly related to her report, she returned to Bethel with a film crew ready to record a Watchtower rebuttal. She was determined to put on record that it was Bethel that had refused to give an interview. Ana Leal filmed outside Bethel and asked again for a response. She was invited into Bethel and waited 30 minutes in a room for the Watchtower to comment. Eventually, Branch Office Committee head, Pedro Candeias, appeared and said: “We have nothing else to add.” (see video below)
The journalist Ana Leal and the documentary team now fully comprehend why the leadership tried to undermine her credibility. The Governing Body’s tactic is clear: they want the documentary to “die.”
But this strategy, on this occasion, has been publicly called out on Portuguese TV.
Now with English subtitles, this documentary with testimonies and survivor stories can be shared more widely. The Governing Body will have to think up a new tactic to silence abuse survivors and journalists who are willing to document Watchtower’s policy failures.
Documentary Translation by Susanna, and subtitles by Carlos Fernandes (TJ Curioso)
For more information on this and other stories in Portuguese, please visit extj.net