'There is no cult': Fury in village over TV segment
BUSINESS owners and residents have rushed to the defence of their small Northern Rivers village after a television news report claimed it was being run by a "bizarre" and "secretive" group.
In a news segment aired nationally on Monday, Channel 7 linked Tyalgum to the mysterious disappearance of Gold Coast mum and teacher Marion Barter, who went missing in 1997.
The segment was in relation to a podcast, The Lady Vanishes.
The connection between Tyalgum and Mrs Barter's disappearance comes through the group Hermes Far Eastern Shining, a well-known spiritual community in the Tweed Valley.
Channel 7 reporter Bryan Seymour visited Tyalgum on the back of claims that she had been lured into joining the group, which he said owned several businesses in the village.
Discover Tyalgum founder Brad Sims said the aired segment was "extremely damaging" and thousands of Facebook comments on Channel 7's Facebook post were "bagging Tyalgum".
"I've worked for a year with the local businesses on Discover Tyalgum to promote the village, all that good effort is gone with this segment," he said.
"There is no cult, there's no central compound, the people live in normal houses, they do normal jobs, they're not encouraged to leave their family.
"Everyone who lives in the village knows that."
Mr Sims showed The Northern Star's sister paper, the Tweed Daily News, an email he had sent to Channel 7 on May 1, prior to the segment airing, which stated no businesses in Tyalgum were owned by Hermes.
He even mentioned concerns the report would be "misleading" and "unfair" as Mr Seymour was seen walking around with television cameras despite allegedly telling Mr Sims the material was for a podcast.
Mr Sims says Mr Seymour never replied to his email.
On Monday, Mr Sims' worst fears were realised when Channel 7 aired what he called the "most despicable piece of journalism I have ever seen".
"They were determined to smear the whole village. No amount of proof would get in their way. It doesn't matter if you've got business name registrations, company details, leases - thoroughly legit documents - they still went ahead and aired outright lies," Mr Sims said.
"They completely fabricated a 'village run by cult' story for ratings and couldn't care less about all the little retailers, cafes and shops making out a living from tourists on the weekend."
Mr Sims said he told Channel 7 that Hermes did not even exist in Tyalgum at the time of Ms Barter's disappearance.
"But they still claimed she might have been abducted," he said.
During the podcast, Mr Seymour questioned business owners and residents about Ms Barter before moving on to the street where he spoke with Hermes member Moe Barnaby.
Mr Barnaby said in the podcast the group was not responsible for the disappearance of Ms Barter and put to bed rumours the group had a "track record of forcing its members to turn their back on their old lives and live with new identities".
"We're not into people hiding their lives or being secretive," he said.
"That's not what we're about."
Hermes Far Eastern Shining, Flutterbies Cafe and Discover Tyalgum have all since released statements condemning the segment.
A Hermes Far Eastern Shining spokesperson said the group had become a "punching bag for attacking the new age movement".
"Hermes Far Eastern Shining is an Australian company that produces alchymeic artefacts," the spokesperson said.
"Over the past 10 years, Hermes Far Eastern Shining has been attacked by several Australian media outlets. This has been terrible at times to endure, as individuals and as a business.
"Some of you may have seen the Channel 7 news story (Monday) evening hoping to find a missing woman who they thought may have been living out in our village.
"She went missing 22 years ago and her daughter Sally has been searching for her since then.
"Unfortunately, Hermes did not have our business establishment in the area until several years after her disappearance, and we have no knowledge of this lady or her whereabouts.
"The issues before us are that, even though Channel 7 was given factual information about the town and the businesses, (before the program went to air), it still chose to paint a very negative picture of the village.
"These blatant lies are very hurtful and damaging to the whole village and the residents who rely heavily on tourism for its economic viability."
The statement went on to say Hermes does not own any other businesses in Tyalgum.
Mr Sims said he and other business owners in the village were looking at taking legal action against Channel 7.
After being contacted by the Tweed Daily News, a Channel 7 spokesperson directed queries to their most recent podcast.