John Sweeney (journalist)
John Sweeney (born 1958) is a British journalist and author. He has worked for The Observer newspaper, the BBC's Newsnight and as an investigative journalist for the BBC's Panorama series until July 2014.
Sweeney worked for twelve years at The Observer newspaper, where he covered wars and revolutions in more than sixty countries including Romania, Algeria, Iraq, Chechnya, Burundi and Bosnia.
Barclay brothers suit
In 1996, Sweeney was sued for criminal defamation in France by the Barclay brothers, owners of The Daily Telegraph, but the claimants lost their case. At the time, Sweeney worked for the rival newspaper The Observer, and had given an interview on BBC Radio Guernsey alleging that they had been involved in corruption. The claimaints justified their legal claim in the French courts on the basis that the broadcast could also be heard in a small coastal part of northern France, although this was widely considered forum shopping. Sweeney was ordered to pay €3,000 by the appeal court in Rennes, France.
Career at the BBC
After formally joining the BBC in 2001, Sweeney reported on mass graves in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe for the BBC in 2002. By then Mugabe had banned BBC reporters from the country, forcing Sweeney to hide in a car boot in order to travel to a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition.
Cot death investigation
Sweeney spent four years investigating the cases of Sally Clark, Angela Cannings and Donna Anthony, three women who had been falsely imprisoned for killing their children. Sweeney's investigation helped to clear their names, and led to Sir Roy Meadow, the expert witness whose testimony had proved decisive in their convictions, being temporarily struck off the General Medical Council's medical register. Sweeney received the Paul Foot Award in 2005 in recognition of his work.
Investigative report on Scientology
"Scientology and Me", a Panorama investigation into Scientology written and presented by Sweeney, was aired on BBC One on Monday, 14 May 2007. Prior to its airing, video footage filmed by the Church of Scientology was released on YouTube and on DVD that showed Sweeney shouting at Scientology representative Tommy Davis during a visit to CCHR's "Psychiatry: An Industry of Death". The clips were sections of a documentary the Church of Scientology's Freedom Magazine TV produced about the BBC Panorama programme.
Sweeney remarked that he lost his temper due to days of harassment by Davis and the Church, and a strong personal reaction to the psychiatry exhibit. He had been visited at his hotel by Davis, despite not having shared the address with the Church, and had been followed on several different occasions. Sweeney labelled the clips "attack videos" and others say they were produced to discredit him and the documentary.
The BBC in response aired its own full recording of the incident. Panorama's Editor Sandy Smith explained what happened and how the BBC dealt with the incident in a post on the BBC's Editor's Blog. An internal BBC investigation found that Sweeney's conduct at one point in the filming was clearly inappropriate, but also noted that Sweeney had apologised for his outburst and concluded that as a whole, filming of the documentary had been performed in a proper and fair manner. Later on that same year in the BBC Panorama year in review Sweeney said “..a new generation is making up its own mind, and for that I make no apology”.
This time as a part of a rehearsed joke, Sweeney goes into a similar outburst in January 2009 when being interviewed on Radio 4 about the Tom Cruise film Valkyrie—clearly referring to the episode two years previously.
A follow-up Panorama programme also hosted by Sweeney, which at an hour is twice the length of the original one, was aired on 28 September 2010. This documentary contained interviews with high profile ex-scientologists Mike Rinder and Marty Rathbun. Rinder in particular explained the tactics used by the church during the making of the previous documentary, while Rathbun primarily discussed the allegations of David Miscavige assaulting other members of the church. Rinder had been involved in the Scientology organisation's stalking of Sweeney.
North Korea Uncovered
In an undercover visit to North Korea, Sweeney posed as an academic from the London School of Economics whilst travelling with a party of students from the university, also including Sweeney's wife and another BBC employee. The BBC has been accused of putting students at risk and of compromising the future ability of the university to pursue studies in other countries with strict regimes.
The BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee investigated the complaints against the programme makers, and found that "the BBC failed to ensure that all the young adults Panorama travelled with were sufficiently aware of any potential risks to enable them to give informed consent. This was a serious failing, and the BBC is right to apologise to the complainants." They also found that Sweeney's wife, who was the trip organiser and tour leader, had a conflict of interest which was compounded when she became employed by the BBC for the programme.
Subsequently however, a public statement signed by six of the 10 LSE student participants on the trip said that "We feel that we have now been put in more risk than was originally the case, as a result of the LSE's decision to go public with their story". They also indicated that they had no objection to the broadcast of the BBC Panorama documentary and that they were satisfied with how the BBC handled the trip. It was also revealed that an agent for the North Korean government had emailed threats to the LSE, which ostensibly motivated the LSE to take action against the BBC publicly. An LSE spokesman denied this. The programme was watched by 5.06 million people making it the number 1 show in its time slot and the 2nd most watched show of the night.
The programme formed the basis of a book, North Korea Undercover, published in November 2013.
Fake Sheikh: Exposed
Sweeney was the presenter of a controversial Panorama about the ex News of the World undercover reporter Mazher Mahmood called “Fake Sheikh: Exposed”. The Attorney General, Jeremy Wright wrote to the BBC asking them not to show it in case it prejudiced any future trial, and Mahmood unsuccessfully tried to get an injunction to stop Panorama broadcasting recent video of him with no disguise. The broadcast was twice delayed and was finally transmitted on November 12, 2014. Following the programme the Crown Prosecution Service announced that they would reinvestigate 25 cases where people were convicted on Mahmood’s evidence.
Sweeney has won several awards throughout his career, including:
- 1998: What the Papers Say Journalist of the Year prize for reports on human rights abuses in Algeria.
- 2000: an Emmy Award and a Royal Television Society prize for programs about the Massacre at Krusha e Madhe, Kosovo.
- 2001: the Amnesty International prize for "Victims of the Torture Train," about human rights abuses in Chechnya.
- 2003: a Sony Gold award (2003) for Best Radio News programme.
- 2004: a Royal Television Society prize (2004) for "Angela's Hope," a BBC One documentary about a woman wrongly convicted of murdering her three babies.
- 2005: The Paul Foot Award.
- Sweeney, John (1991). The Life and Evil Times of Nicolae Ceausescu. Hutchinson. ISBN 978-0-09-174672-8.
- Sweeney, John (1993). Trading With the Enemy: Britain's Arming of Iraq. Pan Books. ISBN 978-0-330-33128-9.
- Sweeney, John (1998). Purple Homicide, Fear and Loathing on Knutsford Heath. Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-0-7475-3970-4.
- Sweeney, John (2010). Rooney's Gold. Biteback. ISBN 1-84954-054-3.
- Sweeney, John (2012). Big Daddy: Lukashenka, Tyrant of Belarus. Silvertail Books.
- Sweeney, John (2012). Elephant Moon. Silvertail Books. ISBN 9781909269019.
- Sweeney, John (2013). Church of Fear : Inside The Weird World of Scientology. Silvertail Books. ISBN 978-1909269033.
- Sweeney, John (2013). North Korea Undercover : Inside The World's Most Secret State. Bantam Press. ISBN 978-0-5930-7297-4.
- Famous Alumni - BBC and Observer investigative journalist John Sweeney Publisher: Barton Peveril Sixth Form College. Retrieved: 27 April 2013.
- "BBC 'used LSE students as human shield' in North Korea". BBC News. 15 April 2013. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
- "the Barclays, BBC, Times and Sweeney - choosing a forum in cross-border action". Caslon Analytics defamation profile. Retrieved 2007-05-18.
- Telegraph owners use French courts in libel case; Barclays head for France to sue the Times
- "Zimbabwe burning". BBC News. 2002-03-03. Retrieved 2010-05-07.
- Sweeney wins Paul Foot Award for ‘relentless pursuit of justice’
- Scientology: BBC reporter losing it! (Scientologist Video of events) on YouTube
- (Travolta and DVD Distribution by Scientology) The Daily Mail 14th May 2007
- BBC Panorama Exposed site showing the full documentary
- Daily Telegraph of 15 May 2007, "BBC reporter blows his top at Scientologist", retrieved 2007-06-06
- John Sweeney's apology on YouTube
- Row over Scientology video, John Sweeney, BBC News, 12th May 2007
- Staff; Anderson Cooper (April 14, 2007). "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees - Inside Scientology". Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN).
- BBC Report on John Sweeney (BBC Video of events) - BBC News clip 14th May 2007
- Sandy Smith (14 May 2007). "Investigating Scientology". BBC News Editors Blog.
It's not a question of us setting out to call Scientology a cult - it's just a question of us asking legitimate questions, and their organisation being unwilling to engage seriously with us. And when you go in as a journalist to try and deal with that, it's explosive.
- Smith, David (May 13, 2007). "The BBC man, the Scientologist - and the YouTube rant". London: The Observer. Retrieved 2008-12-15.
- "BBC man rebuked over Scientology show". Digital Spy. May 14, 2007. Retrieved 2008-12-15.
- Recording of Interview with Sweeney on BBC Radio 4 about the film Valkyrie
- "The secrets of Scientology". BBC News. 2010-09-26.
- "BBC apologises over Panorama's North Korea programme". BBC. 17 March 2014. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
- "Editorial Standards Committee publishes findings on Panorama on North Korea". BBC Trust. 17 March 2014. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
- "Revealed: North Korea's threats to LSE over secret BBC Panorama film". Daily Mail (London).
- Taylor, Jerome (2013-04-14). "BBC report 'endangers LSE students': Panorama programme based on secret footage taken on university field trip to North Korea". The Independent (London).
- Ravi Somaiya (April 14, 2013). "BBC Tactics in Covering North Korea Are Faulted". The New York Times. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
- Glyn Ford (7 May 2014). "North Korea Undercover by John Sweeney". The Asian Review of Books. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
- Award list Available: http://www.projectklebnikov.org/members/sweeney.html Accessed: 17th May, 2007
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: John Sweeney (journalist)|
- Profile on the Panorama Website
- Profile on the Panorama Website, 9 January 2007
- BBC Editors Blog: Investigating Scientology
- Filmography at the British Film Institute
- Sweeney, John; Presented by Kate Adie (March 1, 2008). "FOOC: Justin Webb on US Democrat primaries 1 Mar 08". From Our Own Correspondent (BBC Radio 4, John Sweeney reports on the death in Florida of a noted opponent of Scientology: 17 minutes, 30 seconds into Podcast). Retrieved 2008-03-01.
- BBC employee criticised after PRs hand deliver Mormon documentary complaint 27 March 2012 regarding Sweeney an his documentary The Mormon Candidate on Mormonism, the LDS Church, and Mitt Romney