Regulator orders the winding up of charity found to have funded hate speech

24 May 2022 News

The Charity Commission has ordered Islamic Research Foundation International (IRFI) to be wound up after it funded programmes that exhibited hate speech and violence.

In 2020 the Commission opened an inquiry into IRFI after Ofcom reported that Peace TV channels, which the charity funds, repeatedly breached the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

Ofcom’s investigation found that since 2009, Peace TV channels had shown programmes that incited violence, murder and promoted hate speech. 

The Charity Commission’s concluded that the charity was no longer viable and ordered it to be wound up.  It has now been removed from the charity register. 

Almost 100% of charity expenditure was on funding TV channels

The regulator found that between 2015 – 2020, 96% of the charity’s expenditure was granted to the parent company of the Peace TV channels licence holders, Universal Broadcasting Company (UBC). This amounted to around £3.6m of its total expenditure.

The charity continued to fund the Peace TV channels despite Ofcom’s findings. The regulator ruled that it had not learned any lessons from the report. 

Some of the charity’s trustees had been directors of companies within UBC, and the Commission found these conflicts of interest were not managed appropriately. 

Anti-semitic and homophobic language

IRFI was registered as a charitable company in 2007 with the purpose of advancing the practices of Islam, as well relieving poverty, distress and suffering.

The Charity Commission found issue with how the charity, IRFI, appeared as synonymous with Peace TV.

The charity never had a website in its own name and until 2019 it used a domain name under Peace TV’s name. It also collected donations through the Peace TV website. 

Ofcom suspended Peace TV Urdu’s license in November 2019 after it received complaints that some of its programmes contained homophobic and anti-semitic hate speech. 

Ofcom terminated both Peace TV and Peace TV Urdu’s licences in 2019. Its parent company, UBC, was dissolved as a company the same year. 

Lord Production and Club TV, which had held the licences for Peace TV and Peace TV Urdu respectively, were dissolved in February 2022.  

Dr Zakir Naik, the founder of the charity, acted as a trustee and director of UBC and Lord Production until he was disqualified from acting as a trustee. 

This conflict of interest was not managed, the Commission ruled. 

The Commission disqualified Naik from acting as a trustee before the inquiry took place. The regulator made the decision after the home secretary excluded him from the UK in 2010 on the grounds of “unacceptable behaviour in making statements that attempted to justify terrorist activity and foster hatred.” 

Naik then appealed the disqualification, which resulted in his disqualification being reduced to seven and a half years. 

Interim manager found charity not viable

In July 2020, the Charity Commission appointed an interim manager as both a protective measure and to determine the charity’s viability.  

The interim manager, Virginia Henley of law firm Hewitsons, concluded that the charity was no longer viable. Subsequently, the Commission ordered her to begin the process of winding up the charity. 

The Commission’s inquiry concluded that the trustees mismanaged the charity and failed to act in its best interests.

IRFI was removed from the register of charities earlier this month. 

‘Governance failures rendered the charity unviable’

The charity’s remaining £57,950 was redirected to three charities with similar objectives. 

Tim Hopkins, assistant director, investigations and inquiries at the Charity Commission, said:

“This charity was mismanaged by its trustees, including through their failure to manage the charity’s relationship with Peace TV channels following Ofcom’s findings. These and other repeated governance failures rendered the charity unviable, and the Commission’s intervention has secured its dissolution.

“As part of our intervention into this charity we determined that Dr Naik’s conduct makes him unfit to act as a trustee or hold senior management positions in any charity in England and Wales. Our order protects charities by prohibiting him from acting.”

For more news, interviews, opinion and analysis about charities and the voluntary sector, sign up to receive the Civil Society News daily bulletin here.