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Watchdog rejects 'pyramid' scheme report complaint

Complaints that a Prime Time/Sunday Independent investigation into a "get- rich-quick" pyramid-style selling scheme was "unfair, biased and offensive" have been rejected by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) which found the content was editorially justified and in the public interest.

The BAI said the company involved was offered a fair right of reply and the subject matter was treated in an objective manner throughout.

The complaint by Des McDermott arose after an investigation was broadcast by Rory Egan for Prime Time in September last year into the activities of a company called MyShoppingGenie.

Mr McDermott claimed the programme was not presented in an objective and impartial manner, that the means employed by RTE in making the programme were offensive and harmful and encroached on the credibility of his good name, and that RTE decided to run the programme based on a "distorted" report by a journalist.

RTE said the programme broadcast the report on the American company by freelance Sunday Independent journalist Rory Egan who outlined how the company held a promotional session in a Dublin hotel that brought 300 people together with the promise of making a lot of money for very little effort.

Mr Egan described how MyShoppingGenie was a computer programme that helped you shop online and compare prices using a search engine. It was available without charge but you had to become a distributor before you could give away the programme.

There was an initial charge of $199 (€146) to become a distributor, followed by a monthly payment of $29; so a distributor paid $547 in the first year, and got $3 for every person he had introduced to the programme.

An expert in commercial law said it had all the hallmarks of a pyramid scheme and this was confirmed by a representative of the National Consumer Agency.

The report included surreptitious filming of a sales pitch by representatives of the scheme and outlined the past of the two main people behind the scheme, including a period in prison by the company's founder for handling stolen cheques in the US and the information that a company belonging to the main distributor in the US had been closed down for operating a pyramid scheme.

The complainant described himself as a licensee of MyShoppingGenie but RTE said it was unaware of the circumstances of Mr McDermott.

The BAI referred to undercover footage of a presentation given by the company which claimed "you can earn up to $20,000 a week", "a million dollars a year potential".

The BAI found that the substantive arguments of the programme were evidenced by the undercover footage and expert opinions and the complainant did not submit sufficient argument or evidence to the contrary.

Sunday Independent