How UM hits back at tabloid TV scrutiny
WHEN journalists come knocking, they're met with silence.
Then they're mocked and accused of bias.
Universal Medicine founder Serge Benhayon hasn't commented publicly since he lost a civil defamation case against blogger and former client Esther Rockett, but his associates have produced spin-off "interviews" mocking tabloid television.
In the defamation trial, the Supreme Court jury found to be true Ms Rockett's statements that Mr Benhayon was "the leader of a socially harmful cult", a "charlatan", "dishonest" and that UM "makes false claims about healing that cause harm to others".
In a recent instalment of UM's own videos, former client Kyla Plummer said claims the group was a "cult" were "patently ridiculous".
In the video, Ms Plummer says she's no longer a client of UM's esoteric practitioners, and that she isn't "a student of the Way of the Livingness".
The 39-year-old is the sister and business partner of UM supporter Sarah Karam with Shelly Beach and Ballina CBD cafes Belle General and Belle Central.
The cafes are in partnership with Nourish Bulk Health Organic, which is owned by Sarah's husband and fellow UM supporter Ray Karam.
Asked whether she believed students of the Way of the Livingness were "socially harmful" Ms Plummer said they were "possibly the dead opposite".When interviewer - and her other sister - Rebecca Asquith mentioned "many students... would consider themselves religious students of the Way of the Livingness", Ms Plummer replied that she did not consider herself religious or a student of the group.
The Way of the Livingness is not listed on the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission registry.
The College of Universal Medicine is registered as a small charity with the ACNC, but is not registered as a religion.
In the video, Ms Plummer said she believed Mr Benhayon was "respectful of all people but particularly women" and that she never felt uncomfortable during treatment sessions with him.
This is despite the jury in the defamation case finding the statement that Mr Benhayon "engages in inappropriate conduct towards women" to be "substantially true".
Ms Asquith has meanwhile appeared as "Jess Robertson of ABD News" and "Justine Armless of A Current Event" alongside Jonathan Baldwin, who plays the role of Serge Benhayon, in two satire videos on the CO Media News page on Youtube.
This includes repeated questions around whether UM's treatments were "evidence-based" and faux-mocking of the term "complementary medicine".
The duo mock "ambush-style journalism" in one video which suggests a journalist had given Mr Benhayon inadequate opportunities to respond to questions.
After Mr Benhayon's failed defamation trial, Judge Julia Lonergan reserved a decision on how costs will be calculated, and whether Ms Rockett will be able to use documents found during discovery to lobby regulatory bodies for possible action against UM.
In a final hearing on December 6, Mr Benhayon's barrister Nicholas Olson conceded Ms Rockett's public interest and qualified privilege defences, which covered those defamatory statements not found to be true by the jury.
Mr Olson also conceded the court should make a costs order, but disagreed with Ms Rockett's legal team about how this should be determined.
Serge Benhayon and his legal team have not responded to any requests for comment by The Northern Star since the defamation trial.