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BBC Panorama's Scientology exposé of May 2007: "Scientology and me"

Scientology and Me

«The battleground is YouTube and Scientology's weapon is a clip of me losing it in the "Mind Control" section of a gruesome exhibition.»

By John Sweeney
BBC One, Monday 14 May at 20:30 BST
BBC News 24, Monday at 00:30 BST and Tuesday at 03:30 BST

You can to watch the show online from Panorama's web site or see it at Mark Bunker's blog (better quality.) You can read the transcript, you can also give feedback to the Panorama team if you wish.

Not easy to report on Scientology

Despite John Sweeney's outburst (see it on YouTube), to which he apologized shortly thereafter (something the scientologists won't show in their snippet of video), will the scientologists address the issues raised in the documentary? Unlikely, as the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard wrote clear policies on how to deal with criticism: "... always attack ... don't ever defend ..."
"If there will be a long-term threat, you are to immediately evaluate and originate a black PR campaign to destroy the person's repute and to discredit them so thoroughly that they will be ostracized."

L. Ron Hubbard, 30 May 1974, "Confidential - PR Series 24 - Handling Hostile Contacts/Dead Agenting"

Therefore, expect scientologists to cling to this little video excerpt as a mean to dismiss everything else in the documentary. This is unfortunate, because there are real issues that need to be addressed, so many hurtful and noxious Scientology doctrines, practices and policies, and unfortunately, Scientology has no built-in tools to fix itself.

This documentary will give a voice to the ones whose experiences were negative with regard to Scientology. And as usual, the Church of Scientology will certainly show that it wants to be the only voice heard when it comes to express a view on Scientology.

Note that Sweeney's outburst happened while he was visiting a Scientology exhibition named "Psychiatry: Industry of Death."

Incidentally, journalist David Cohen in his article titled "Tom's aliens target City's 'planetary rulers'" (Evening Standard), on Oct. 23, 2006, reported that Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige gave a speech in which depictions of psychiatrists being machine-gunned were shown, while the Scientologists attending the event applauded wildly...

This is essentially the promotion of deadly violence against other human beings just because they happen to practice psychiatry... So understand that Sweeney was surrounded by pure, creepy, scary dogma while inside that exhibition.

For further coverage on John Sweeney and "Scientology and me", be sure to visit:

Also, did you know that Panorama also covered Scientology in 1987? See The Road to Total Freedom at Mark Bunker's Xenu TV (part of a larger archive of documentaries on Scientology.)

May 15 update

As expected, the Church of Scientology put up a web site attempting to discredit John Sweeney and the Panorama team. Even though Panorama is not above criticism, it is important to know that 'dead agenting' is Church of Scientology's policy, as devised by its founder L. Ron Hubbard. As usual, the purpose is to avoid addressing real issues raised concerning many Scientology practices. In a Scientology world, opposing views would be made illegal:

"Somebody some day will say 'this is illegal.' By then be sure the orgs [Scientology organizations] say what is legal or not."

L. Ron Hubbard, 4 January 1966, "LRH Relationship to Orgs"

May 19 update

An anonymous poster reported an email supposedly circulated inside the Scientology organization in Australia. Here is the subject title of the reported email (my emphasis):


What "aired tonight" was BBC Panorama's "Scientology and me" on Australia's Channel 7's "Today Tonight" show. This is interesting, if real: an explicit request to use Scientology's 'dead agent' doctrine as a defense. Sure, the scientologists wouldn't think to fix what is wrong with their 'religion' in the first place, they rather 'fix' the people reporting on what is wrong with their 'religion'...


In the news

The Daily Mail (May 19, 2007): "'Tom Cruise's Church of hate tried to destroy me'"
[...] Almost daily threatening letters arrived by fax and post at the newspaper where I used to work. Messages were left on the answer machine at the home of the managing director.

Strangers turned up in his village asking questions about him.

And the culprits behind this campaign of intimidation? Step forward the Church of Scientology.

This week the Mail exposed disturbing apparent links between the "church" and the City of London Police.

Our report was followed by a Panorama programme in which reporter John Sweeney was seen losing his temper with a scientologist, claiming afterwards that he had been driven over the edge by a concerted campaign of harassment by the group. [...]

The Sun (May 18, 2007): "Sorry for shouting you weirdos"
I was wrong to lose it, I apologised then and I apologise now.

But Scientology is something else. They’ve also put out an attack magazine in which they say: “John Sweeney outdid Hitler at his Nuremberg Rally speech.”

I’m a disgrace, a bigot, the BBC has dumbed down. And their DVD says Panorama faked a demonstration which triggered terrorist threats against the Church — implying that we might be in league with terrorists.

That’s what happens when you start ask questions about Scientology. They come for you, big time. [...]

The Guardian (May 15, 2007): "Scientologists may take legal action in Panorama row"
The Church of Scientology last night launched a fresh attempt to discredit the Panorama reporter John Sweeney, following the broadcast of a prime time BBC1 programme investigating its controversial beliefs and recruiting methods.

As Panorama editor Sandy Smith took to the airwaves to defend Sweeney's investigation following the furore around his furious YouTube outburst captured by Scientology cameras, the war of words and online propaganda intensified.

Mike Rinder, a director at Church of Scientology International, said it was considering legal action and a formal complaint to the media regulator Ofcom. [...]

Evening Standard (May 15, 2007): "This rich creepy cult has friends in high places" by Francis Wheen
JOHN Travolta is a halfwit. A statement of the obvious, perhaps, given his adherence to a cult which believes we’re all infected with the souls of aliens who were banished to earth 75 million years ago by an evil galactic warlord called Xenu. But if anyone doubted it, the former disco-strutter confirmed his asininity by publicly urging the BBC not to screen John Sweeney’s Panorama film about Scientology last night. Not to be outdone, Travolta’s fellow-cultists gleefully posted on YouTube a clip of Sweeney losing his temper.

Had they paused for a moment’s rational thought — tricky, I agree, with extraterrestrial imps running amok in your brain — they’d have realised their actions could only boost the audience for Panorama. Is this what they wanted?

I doubt it. Scientologists loathe journalistic scrutiny, and with good reason. For decades they were visible merely as pod-people who lurked in the Tottenham Court Road, inviting passers-by to come in and take a “personality test” — as familiar and absurd as their near-neighbour Stanley Green, the sandwich-board man of Oxford Street who warned that protein was the root of all evil.

Recently, however, these extraterrestrial creeps have been using their vast wealth to buy respectability; and until Sweeney got on their case they were doing rather well. At the opening of their huge new headquarters in the City of London last October, Chief Superintendent Kevin Hurley praised Scientologists as “a force for good — raising the spiritual wealth of society”. It then emerged that at least 20 of his fellow officers in the City force had accepted hospitality from the Church of Scientology in the previous year, including invitations to the premiere of Mission: Impossible 3 and tickets to a £500-ahead dinner attended by Tom Cruise. [...]

CNN (May 14, 2007): Scientology and Me Aftermath
Sandy Smith, Panorama Editor (May 14, 2007): "Investigating Scientology"
We set out to ask if Scientology was changing. It's an organisation with a chequered history, and a very colourful founder. It's been described as corrupt and sinister in courts in the UK. But the Church says that's all in the past, and it's just opened a new HQ in London.

As part of his investigations, our reporter John Sweeney (more from him here) had been shown an exhibition entitled the 'Industry of Death'. Scientologists believe that all psychiatry should be eradicated, and that it is evil in every form. Like everything to do with Scientology, their views are absolute. [...]

Evening Standard (May 14, 2007): "Scientology to ‘expose’ BBC tactics" by Alexa Baracaia
THE Church of Scientology is launching a website and magazine in its campaign against the BBC, aimed at “exposing” its “rogue” documentary tactics.

It comes amid a growing row over a Panorama investigation into the religious sect, which is due to be screened tonight.

During filming, reporter John Sweeney lost his temper and shouted at Scientology representative Tommy Davis. Footage of the scene — which Scientologists say is proof of bias — was posted on internet site YouTube. Scientologists have also spent a reported £30,000 sending 100,000 copies of a DVD of the incident to MPs, media groups, religious leaders and heads of business.

Mr Sweeney claims he and some of his film team were “spied upon” by Scientologists.

Now Scientology chiefs are to go live with an anti-BBC website,, where visitors can order a magazine containing alleged criticisms of the BBC.

Mike Rinder, a director of Scientology International, told the Standard that the claims of spying were “an absolute and utter lie” and indicated the church may consider legal action.

Panorama editor Sandy Smith today defended Mr Sweeney and vowed the documentary would be broadcast.

BBC News (May 14, 2007): News item on the BBC Panorama "Scientology & Me"
    The Daily Mail (May 14, 2007): "BBC man says 'I was wrong to lose it. But these scientologists are truly scary'"
BBC reporter John Sweeney apologises for losing his temper on tonight's Panorama programme on Scientology.

He talks about the 6 months of intensive research behind the film and what it was exactly that drove him to lose it

This was a disaster.

I feel ashamed and, although I've been kicked around the Panorama office by the BBC, no one is more embarrassed about me losing it than me.

I let my team down and I apologised when it happened and I apologise again now.

However, to understand how I felt, you've got to spend six months investigating the Church of Scientology, then a whole week of continued contact with both its followers and its ex-followers, then spend 90 minutes inside an exhibition on mind control and then try to behave normally.

I felt as though I was losing my mind to them. [...]

The Daily Telegraph (May 14, 2007): "Screaming rage of the man from Panorama"
A bitter row has erupted between the BBC and the Church of Scientology after an experienced reporter lost his temper on camera and screamed at a senior member of the controversial group for 30 seconds.

The corporation has been forced to defend itself against claims in a Scientology DVD that it orchestrated a demonstration against the group, whose adherents include Hollywood actors John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Anne Archer, in which a "terrorist death threat" was allegedly made.

John Sweeney, a journalist for Panorama, has also had to apologise for his outburst after he was filmed shouting furiously at Tommy Davis, a Scientologist. [...]

BBC One Panorama (May 13, 2007): "Scientology and Me"
The battleground is YouTube and Scientology's weapon is a clip of me losing it in the "Mind Control" section of a gruesome exhibition.

Scientology has fought many battles to keep its secrets off the web, now they are using it to attack my investigation into them.

Scientology has prepared an attack video, and they have shown the Scientology v Sweeney shouting match to anyone who would watch it.

There is talk of 100,000 copies being released. [...]

The Sunday Telegraph (May 13, 2007): "BBC denies 'death threat' in Scientology row"
The BBC has hit back at accusations that it orchestrated a demonstration against Scientologists during which a "terrorist death threat" was allegedly made.

It comes as a bitter row develops between the Corporation and Scientologists over a highly critical Panorama documentary about the religion, in which a veteran reporter lost his temper and screamed for 30 seconds at a Church member.

The BBC has seriously reprimanded John Sweeney for the outburst, which the journalist has admitted was "wrong and stupid".

The church posted the clip of Mr Sweeney's rant on the self-broadcasting website YouTube, and has now distributed 100,000 copies of a DVD it made of the BBC crew filming the documentary.

It released the DVD to MPs, peers and religious leaders in an offensive to counter allegations made against Scientologists in the Panorama film. The BBC documentary will be aired on BBC1 tomorrow. [...]

The Observer (May 13, 2007): "Losing it: BBC reporter's rant is caught on video"
A Journalist at Panorama, the BBC's flagship current affairs series, has been reprimanded for losing his temper and screaming with rage during the making of an investigation into the Church of Scientology.

John Sweeney has apologised for the outburst against a scientologist which was filmed and then put on the video-sharing website YouTube, prompting criticism of the corporation. The BBC held an internal inquiry but said Sweeney had not breached any guidelines.

The incident is one of the first examples of 'video ambushing', where organisations being investigated turn the camera on the film makers. The Church of Scientology, whose members include the Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta, shadowed the Panorama team in America with its own camera crew. It has made a 'counter documentary', attacking Sweeney's methods, and distributed 100,000 DVDs to MPs, civil servants, religious groups, media organisations and business leaders. [...]

Daily Mail (May 13, 2007): "Travolta's attack on BBC man in Scientology expose"
John Travolta has launched a bitter attack on a veteran BBC reporter over a Panorama film that exposes the methods used by Scientology and questions whether it is a "brainwashing cult".

The Hollywood star has written to Corporation chiefs accusing journalist John Sweeney of venting "personal prejudices, bigotry and animosity" and harbouring "hatred against my religion". [...]

The Sunday Times (May 13, 2007): "Scientologists to BBC: what planet are you on?"
THE Church of Scientology is trying to counter a BBC exposé by turning the cameras on the Panorama investigators and distributing 100,000 DVDs of its “findings”.

In a preemptive strike that is costing the church £30,000, it is sending copies of the DVD to all MPs and peers, religious leaders and other “influential” figures.

So determined has it been to neuter claims in the programme that it is a cult that its film makers tailed the journalists, employed CCTV and repeatedly confronted reporters.

It accuses the BBC of sharp practice and “gross bias” — and has posted footage on YouTube of the programme’s reporter John Sweeney “losing it” by screaming at a Scientology spokesman. [...]

BBC News (May 12, 2007): "Row over Scientology video"
The battleground is YouTube and Scientology's weapon is a clip of me losing it in the "Mind Control" section of a gruesome exhibition.

Scientology has fought many battles to keep its secrets off the web, now they are using it to attack my investigation into them.

Scientology has prepared an attack video, and they have shown the Scientology v Sweeney shouting match to anyone who would watch it.

There is talk of 100,000 copies being released. [...]


Last updated: January 26, 2009