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BBC reporter blows his top at Scientologist

Daily Telegraph, 14 May 2007

By Stephen Adams

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.

But Sandy Smith, the investigative programme's editor, has denied that it organised a protest against the group.

Mr Smith said: "Their DVD contains two grossly defamatory claims about us - one, that we staged a demonstration against Scientology and two, that a terrorist death threat was made.

"It is absolutely outrageous to suggest that the BBC would organise a demonstration - why would we?"

He added that the Scientologists wrote the script for the DVD in a "curious way" but that it "clearly implied that a terrorist death threat was made" at the demonstration.

A BBC spokesman added: "These allegations are clearly laughable and utter nonsense."

But a Scientology spokesman replied: "The BBC's statements are incorrect."

Mike Rinder, a Scientology official, said the group had been forced to film Mr Sweeney because the BBC crew had "pre-written" the documentary.

He added: "It became clear to us that his story was pre-written.

"He wouldn't let the facts get in the way, so we decided to do a John Sweeney on John Sweeney."

In the Scientologists' clip of the outburst, which it posted on video-sharing website YouTube, Mr Sweeney is heard screaming: "Now listen to me! You were not there at the beginning of the interview! You were not there!

"You did not hear or record all the interview! Do you understand?

"You are quoting the second half of the interview, not the first half. You cannot assert what you are saying!"

His shouting all but drowns out the words of the Scientologist, who simply repeats over and over again: "Brainwashing is a crime against humanity."

Last night Mr Sweeney said his behaviour had resulted in him having his "arse kicked" by the BBC.

He said: "What I did was wrong and stupid and I am embarrassed about it. I let down the team and I let down the BBC.

"It was my seventh day with the Scientologists and I snapped. I have had my arse kicked by the BBC but they have not fired me."

Explaining the background to his outburst, he said: "I felt I was being brainwashed.

"I had been in the Scientologists' Psychiatry: Industry of Death exhibition which claims that modern psychiatry is a Nazi pseudo-science."

He claimed that his crew were followed continuously during filming and counted 13 "suspicious strangers" who kept tabs on them while in the US and Britain. One even turned up at his wedding, he alleged.

Mr Smith claimed the crew had become victims of a "smear tactic" used by the Church of Scientology against anyone who questioned its methods.

Before he died, the organisation's founder, L Ron Hubbard, declared that anyone who opposed it was "fair game" and could legitimately be "tricked, sued or lied to and destroyed".

Mr Smith said: "This is the most clear 'fair game' smear tactic from the Scientologists - and now they are doing it against us."

Mr Sweeney recently shouted: "Are you a member of a brainwashing cult?" at John Travolta.

The actor wrote in a letter to the BBC: "There was a man screaming insults and accusations about my religion, for the respected institution of the BBC. As a journalist he should not be given a forum to air his personal prejudices, bigotry and animosity."

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