ELEANOR HALL: To the bitter dispute between the Church of Scientology and the BBC, which is being played out on the internet site YouTube.
Tonight, Britain’s public broadcaster is screening a documentary called Scientology and Me, which is being promoted as an investigative insight into the religious group.
But the Church of Scientology has hit back, posting its own video on the YouTube website, showing the BBC reporter in an ugly screaming match with church officials.
As Lindy Kerin reports, the incident has embarrassed the network.
LINDY KERIN: Since its inception in the 1950s, the Church of Scientology has been under intense scrutiny. Its beliefs have been the subject of satire in popular programs like South Park.
(excerpt from South Park)
ACTOR: We want to reveal to Stan the great secret of life behind our church – the safely guarded Scientology doctrine. Please, your son deserves to be enlightened.
ACTOR 1: Stan do you want to hear the great secret doctrine of life behind Scientology?
LINDY KERIN: The religious group set up by American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard is growing in popularity, and a new $20-million office headquarters has just been opened in London.
But for many, Scientology continues to be shrouded in secrecy.
The BBC’s Panorama program will tonight broadcast a documentary investigating the history and current membership of the religious group.
BBC PROMOTION: Scientology and Me. John Sweeney investigates a religious organisation that does not like to be called a cult.
LINDY KERIN: The BBC Reporter John Sweeney’s story shows some of the difficulties he faced in gathering information for the program, and shows a tense interview with church official, Tommy Davis.
(excerpt from BBC’s Panorama program)
JOHN SWEENEY: L. Ron Hubbard, some people say…
TOMMY DAVIS: You know, I want to just go back to this…
JOHN SWEENEY: … that he’s a fantasist and a liar…
TOMMY DAVIS: I want to just come back to this. See, I would just like … I would just like to, and I hope somebody is shooting this. Okay, good.
JOHN SWEENEY: Rather, there’s actually… to be fair.
TOMMY DAVIS: There’s an open…at least…
JOHN SWEENEY: …there’s one camera from the BBC and one camera from your…
TOMMY DAVIS: Now you listen to me for a second, you have…
JOHN SWEENEY: So, would you say it’s a cult?
TOMMY DAVIS: …no right to whatsoever to say what and what isn’t a religion. The Constitution of the United States of America guarantees one’s right to practice and believe freely in this country.
And the definition of religion is very clear, and it’s not defined by John Sweeney. And for you to repeatedly refer to my faith in those terms is so derogatory, so offensive and so bigoted. And the reason you keep repeating it is because you wanted to get a reaction like you’re getting right now. Well buddy, you got it. Right here, right now, I’m angry, real angry.
LINDY KERIN: But the Church of Scientology has tried to discredit the Panorama investigation.
It has prepared an attack video showing John Sweeney losing his temper and arguing with Scientology officials.
(excerpt from Scientology video)
JOHN SWEENEY: I’m not an expert on brainwashing.
NARRATOR: And when asked, in that case, why he kept making the accusation, Sweeney’s reaction was unexpected to say the least.
JOHN SWEENEY: No (inaudible), no listen to me! You were not there at the beginning of…!
LINDY KERIN: Copies of the outburst were sent to John Sweeney’s boss and the Director-General of the BBC. John Sweeney has since apologised and admits he is embarrassed by the video.
He has also attempted to explain his actions, releasing a statement on the BBC website.
EXCERPT OF JOHN SWEENEY’S STATEMENT (voiceover): If you’re interested in becoming a TV journalist, it is a fine example of how not to do it. I look like an exploding tomato and shout like a jet engine. It makes me cringe. As often in life, I snapped over something completely different and quite trivial.
LINDY KERIN: The editor of the Panorama program, Sandy Smith, says John Sweeney was wrong to lose his temper but was under immense pressure.
He says during the course of his investigation, the reporter was shouted at, spied on and chased around the streets of Los Angeles by strangers in hire cars.
SANDY SMITH: John cracked, and he was wrong to do so but I think when people see the film in its fullness on Monday at 8:30, I mean hopefully they’ll at least understand it, even if they won’t necessarily support his actions.
LINDY KERIN: The World Today has contacted the Church of Scientology but so far, there’s been no official response.
ELEANOR HALL: Lindy Kerin reporting.