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BBC Breakfast discuss Scientology versus Panorama

BBC Breakfast, 14 May 2007

Transcribed from the BBC's RealPlayer stream

Dermot Murnaghan (male anchor): ...and it numbers Hollywood actors such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its supporters, but the Church of Scientology continues to face criticism about its practices. Well, the BBC's Panorama programme has been to Los Angeles to investigate some of the more sinister allegations made about the religion.

Sian Williams (female anchor): But in the course of the filming, the programme's reporter John Sweeney somewhat lost his temper with one member of the Church. That footage has now been posted on the YouTube web site. Let's have a look.

[Clip of John Sweeney shouting]

DM: John Sweeney there, from Panorama.

SW: Yes, talking to the spokesperson for the Church Scientology, Tommy Davis. Well, the editor of Panorama, Sandy Smith, has joined us. Good morning to you, Sandy.

Sandy Smith: Good morning.

SW: What happened?

SS: It's not "Songs of Praise", is it?

SW: No!

SS: John had been shown an exhibition called "The Industry of Death exhibition". Scientologists believe that all psychiatry should be eradicated; that it's responsible for the Holocaust; that it's evil in every form. Now, while one might have some sympathy about psychiatric drugs and that controversy it goes way beyond that. Like everything about Scientology, it is absolute.

In that exhibition, John had seen needles being pushed into children's eyes, he had seen torture imagery, all of which Scientology say is legitimate imagery. He'd been talking to Scientologists and ex-Scientologists all week. They had been dogging his every step. They'd been following him. They'd been interrupting interivews he'd been doing. At one point he interviewed a man, and the Scientologist spokesman turned up unannounced, in the middle of the car park, waving the man's crime sheet and saying "Why are you interviewing a pervert? Here's his rap sheet, he's a pervert."

So, very quickly, there were two stag beetles locked, if you like. It all came to a head at this exhibtion, when the spokesman accused John of going too soft on this other interviewee. John completely lost it in a way which I don't condone. We're not showing that clip to promote the programme because we're proud of it. We're showing it because it's been on YouTube and the BBC has been criticised for it. We don't want to hide it.

I'm very disappointed for John. He's disappointed. But when you see the programme tonight at 8.30, and what goes before and what comes after, you see a portrait of an extraordinary organisation which says it does so much good work in the field of drugs and human rights, and will not accept any criticism about it whatsoever.

It's not a question of calling it a cult. It's a question of, you know, when a judge described them as corrupt, sinister and, and evil, in the UK; to them, that's never happened. They have no way of dealing with any kind of criticism at all. As you go in as a journalist to try and deal that, it's explosive.

I'm dealing with a situation in which the Church of Scientology has released a video to all MPs and Peers, accusing Panorama of staging a demonstration outside one of their offices in London, and making a death threat - they call it a "terrorist death threat" against Scientologists - the BBC accused of terrorism!

DM: Sandy, we've seen that outburst from John Sweeney. Let's have a look at another part of the programme. This is where John is trying to interview Tommy Davis, a spokesman for the Church of Scientology.

[clip from Panorama of Tommy Davis getting angry and walking away from camera]

DM: Yeah, Sandy, you say the Scientologists kept interrupting, as we saw there, but did they actually sit down and give you a formal interview?

SS: Yeah they did, over a day and a half they wanted us to talk to Anne Archer, to Kirstie Alley, to an actress called Leah Rimini, to other celebrities and sports players, because they believe they have the "tech", as they call it, to unlock the negativity in your mind, to help you achieve, to drive out the negativity from past lives, and also from alien beings who were exiled here 75 million years ago. Once you're in that state of "Clear" you can really, really progress. So, they lined them all up, one after the other. They talked about what it meant to them. They were convincing. They were strong. Kirstie Alley in particular was very persuasive.

John then said, "Look, why is it tbat people say it's a sinister cult and that people are brainwashed" which is not an allegation that we have made. I don't want Scientologists watching this in the UK... I don't want them to think that I think they've been brainwashed.

Anyway, the interviews went on. Three or four days before transmission, solicitor's letters from California: "We don't want to be in the movie". So we've had to withdraw them under US law. So in a sense, their attempt to balance the film, which is what I wanted as the editor... They've shot themselves in the foot and that's had to come out.

SW: And is it a balanced film? It's not more heat than light, is it? Because there's so much passion involved, from the two...

SS: There's a fair amount of heat, as you've seen. It doesn't claim to be the definitive Scientology film. We may have to do that another time.

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