Religious broadcasters Larry Lea and Robert Tilton continue to feel the aftereffects of a 1991 ABC “Prime-Time Live” segment that charged their ministries with financial impropriety.
Lea’s ministry has cleared itself with the Ethics and Financial Integrity Commission (EFICOM), the financial watchdog arm of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB). But both Lea and EFICOM have recently found themselves hit by counterclaims from “PrimeTime Live.” “PrimeTime” executive producer Robbie Gordon says both Lea—and later EFICOM—incorrectly claimed the TV show misrepresented its intentions when courting Lea for their interview.
In its statement clearing Lea, EFICOM had echoed Lea’s allegations against ABC, saying that “significant facts relating to each of the situations raised were excluded from the program” and that the “reason given for wanting to interview Lea was that they viewed him as an emerging young leader in international ministry.”
But Gordon, in subsequent letters to NRB president David Clark and executive director Brandt Gustavson, called these allegations “patently incorrect and misleading” and said she would “appreciate a fair and evenhanded handling of this matter and a rectification.”
The current spat stems from charges by “PrimeTime” that Lea’s on-the-air appeals for funds were untruthful (CT, Jan. 13, 1992, p. 42). Those charges set into motion EFICOM’s four-month investigation. Though Lea was delinquent in submitting financial audits to EFICOM, eventually in March EFICOM found that “[Lea’s] corporate bylaws and minutes were … in excellent order” and that Larry Lea Ministries was “in compliance with standards.”
Lea’s ministry will be re-evaluated for continued EFICOM membership following receipt of 1991 audited forms.
Another target of the “PrimeTime Live” broadcast, Robert Tilton, has ended syndicated broadcasts of his Sunday-morning worship services. Tilton’s ministry, which has had no official ties to EFICOM or the Evangelical Council for Financial Responsibility, ended the broadcasts because of what Tilton’s attorney and spokesperson J. C. Joyce called “economic reasons.”
According to Ole Anthony, president of Trinity Foundation, a nonprofit media watchdog organization, Tilton’s contributions have dropped by at least 50 percent.
Tilton’s “Success-N-Life” program, seen in an estimated 6 million homes, will continue syndication.
By Thomas S. Giles.
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