Scientology and Me

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Scientology and Me
Opening title
Created byPanorama · John Sweeney
Presented byJeremy Vine · John Sweeney
Country of originUnited Kingdom
EditorDamian Leask
Running time30 minutes
Original release
NetworkBBC One
Release14 May 2007 (2007-05-14)

Scientology and Me is a television documentary first broadcast on 14 May 2007 as part of the BBC's Panorama series. In it, reporter John Sweeney visited the United States to investigate whether the Church of Scientology was becoming more mainstream. The programme gained particular controversy before and during filming due to unresolved differences on content and approach between Sweeney's production team and Scientology members. Tommy Davis, the international spokesperson for Scientology, did not want the BBC to interview any detractors or perceived enemies of the church or include them in the documentary, and attempted to censor any references to Scientology as a "cult."[1][2]

The scale of the controversy intensified when the Church of Scientology released a 40-second clip of video footage showing a screaming argument between John Sweeney and Church spokesman Tommy Davis over the way in which Sweeney was interviewing critics of Scientology.[3][4] In the clip, Sweeney yells: "You were not there at the beginning of that interview! You were not there! You did not hear or record all the interview! You are quoting the second half of the interview, not the first half! You cannot assert what you're saying!" at Davis in reference to an interview Sweeney recorded with Scientology critic Shawn Lonsdale.[5] Despite the Church of Scientology's lobbying British MPs to have the documentary scrapped, its first airing went ahead on 14 May. With a peak of 4.9 million viewers in the UK, the episode garnered the highest ratings for Panorama since September the previous year.[6]


The documentary was intended as an investigation of the claims of both critics of the Church of Scientology and the Church itself to see if the Church "still deserved its sinister reputation."[7] In the introduction, Sweeney outlines his investigation into the reputation of the Church of Scientology, its affiliated celebrities and its current activities. He begins with an edited version of a statement issued during the 1994 Los Angeles Superior Court case Church of Scientology of California vs Gerald Armstrong, in which Judge John Breckenridge describes the Church of Scientology as "[s]chizophrenic, bizarre, ... paranoid[;] ... an organization that harasses its enemies ... and abuses the trust of its members."[8][9] Sweeney notes that the case has been derided by the Church of Scientology as it believes it was based upon discredited evidence.[10]

In describing the affiliated celebrity members of Scientology, the documentary refers to them as an "all-star cast list." John Travolta is seen crediting the longevity of his career and demise of other people's careers as due to the influence or lack of influence of Dianetics.[11][12] The documentary moves onto an interview in which Sweeney talks with a mother, known as "Sharon,"[13] who had been "disconnected" from her daughter after her daughter had taken a weekend away with other Scientologists and had read several books which she claimed had changed her life. Sweeney then explains the concept of a "disconnection" within the context of Scientology doctrine. "To the church, Sharon was a negative influence. Her daughter wrote to her cutting all ties. It's what Scientology call a 'disconnect.' They say they bring families together and a disconnect is a rare last resort and a human right."


Outburst controversy

On 10 May 2007, four days before the documentary's first networked airing, video footage filmed by the Church of Scientology was released on YouTube[14] and DVD showing Sweeney's outburst towards Scientology representative Tommy Davis. The Church of Scientology also presented the BBC with a set of 154 breaches of BBC guidelines which they claimed Sweeney and his team broke, though Sandy Smith, the programme's producer, responded that "[t]he head of current affairs, George Entwistle, has viewed all footage complained of and, with the exception of the point when Sweeney shouts, he found nothing that stood outside BBC guidelines."[15] The BBC responded to the clip by releasing on its website the video Sweeney shot to give some context to the argument before the documentary was aired. Since a description of Sweeney losing his temper was included in TV guide listings for the documentary, the BBC already knew about Sweeney's outburst before the YouTube clip was uploaded.[16]

Scientologists also later complained of bigotry towards the Church in comments made by Sweeney during interviews with Scientology members. Sweeney's outburst toward Tommy Davis prompted John Travolta to lobby British MPs in an attempt to stop the documentary from being aired.[17] Both Sweeney and Sandy Smith apologised for his (Sweeney's) behaviour.[18][19] Sweeney stated that it was a by-product of the "hijacking of the Holocaust" by the Scientology exhibition Psychiatry: An Industry of Death – which was where the outburst occurred – as well as attempts to control his mind.[20][21] Sweeney said of the incident: "I apologised almost immediately, Tommy carried on as if nothing had happened but meanwhile Scientology had rushed off copies of me losing it to my boss, my boss's boss and my boss's boss's boss, the Director-General of the BBC."[22] Later, he added: "I look like an exploding tomato and shout like a jet engine and every time I see it, it makes me cringe." At the time the Church of Scientology posted its own material regarding the matter on the Internet, one of its spokesmen denied Sweeney's statement regarding a quick apology.[4]

Anti-documentary activity by Scientology

Sweeney said of fair gaming: "While making our BBC Panorama film "Scientology and Me" I have been shouted at, spied on, had my hotel invaded at midnight, denounced as a 'bigot' by star Scientologists and been chased round the streets of Los Angeles by sinister strangers." Sweeney also claimed that his family and neighbours had been harassed by unidentified strangers back in the UK, including an intruder at his wedding who fled when confronted.[22]

Former high-ranking Scientologist and spokesperson Mike Rinder claimed David Miscavige was unhappy with the church's handling of the documentary, and punished Rinder by exiling him to the United Kingdom to dig ditches.[23] As a result, he left the church in 2007.[23] In 2009, he has subsequently spoken out against the church, and now said he lied to Sweeney during the interviewing to defend the church.[24][25]

The Church also created a documentary regarding the BBC's activities called 'Panorama Exposed', showcasing many of the Panorama team's alleged violations of BBC and government broadcast codes.

On 28 September 2010, Rinder and Amy Scobee were featured on The Secrets of Scientology, a follow-up to the 2007 broadcast.[26] Rinder revealed that Sweeney was correct: Scientology was following Sweeney's activities for the 2007 report.[26]

See also


  1. ^ "Scientology and Me: transcript". BBC News. 11 May 2007. Retrieved 5 May 2012. – Timestamp 7:15–730. John Sweeney: "We were shown videos and tried to reach an agreement on access. He didn't want us to interview attackers, or anonymous critics, or use the word 'cult' we couldn't reach agreement."
  2. ^ "Scientology and Me: transcript". BBC News. 11 May 2007. Retrieved 28 May 2007. – "TOMMY DAVIS: [Church of Scientology] find it considerably obnoxious what you've done. The time that I took, came over there, spent two days with you straight, offered time and coordination and you come here and what do you spend your time with? Offer for you to see the facilities."
  3. ^ "Scientology and Me: transcript". BBC News. 11 May 2007. Retrieved 5 May 2012. – John Sweeney: "Then Tommy Davis launches into me yet again for the uncritical way he believes I interviewed Shawn Lonsdale back in Clearwater and I lose it big time."
  4. ^ a b "Church of Scientology cameras capture BBC reporter's rant". Houston Chronicle. 15 May 2007.
  5. ^ "Scientology fights back against BBC". ABC News. 17 May 2007. Retrieved 21 January 2008.
  6. ^ (TV ratings) The Guardian
  7. ^ BBC, et al. (2007). "Scientology and Me: transcript" – "SWEENEY: My mission ? to find out whether the Church of Scientology still deserves its sinister reputation. It's not formally recognised as a religion in the UK by the Charity Commission, but Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta believe that must change. Scientology's critics say followers have been duped and the moment you start investigating the church you're in trouble. My mission is not impossible but it won't be easy."
  8. ^ BBC, et al. (2007). "Scientology and Me: transcript" – "NAR: "Schizophrenic, bizarre, ... paranoid, ... an organisation that harasses its enemies ... and abuses the trust of its members"
  9. ^ Breckenridge, J. Jr. (1994), "Brechenridge Decision – (No. C 420153)" John Breckenridge Jr. Copyright
  10. ^ BBC, et al. (2007). "Scientology and Me: transcript" – "SWEENEY: An American judge in '84 said Scientology mirrored Hubbard's schizophrenic and paranoid personality. The church rejects this and all negative judgements and criticism is based on discredited evidence."
  11. ^ BBC, et al. (2007). "Scientology and Me: transcript" --"SWEENEY: It's the church with an all star cast list."
  12. ^ BBC, et al. (2007). "Scientology and Me: transcript" --"JOHN TRAVOLTA: There's no doubt about it that the people that didn't make it in Hollywood ? and I mean survive ? if they'd had Scientology or Dianetics they would have been here today, whether it was Elvis or Marilyn or..."
  13. ^ BBC, et al. (2007). "Scientology and Me: transcript"
  14. ^ John Sweeney – BBC Panorama Reporter at work (Scientologist Video of events) – YouTube clip
  15. ^ (The BBC man, The Scientologist) The Guardian 13 May 2007
  16. ^ "Travolta accuses BBC reporter of bigotry and animosity". ABC News. 14 May 2007.
  17. ^ "John Travolta lobbying BBC to kill documentary on Scientology". Cinematical. 14 May 2007. Retrieved 28 May 2007. – John Travolta sending 100,000 copies of Sweeney shouting at Tommy Davis to MPs.
  18. ^ "Editor defends Scientology report". BBC News. 14 May 2007. Retrieved 28 May 2007.
  19. ^ BBC, et al. (2007). "Scientology and Me: transcript" – "I apologise there and I apologise now. It was wrong and I'd let my team down. I lost my voice but not my mind."
  20. ^ BBC, et al. (2007). "Scientology and Me: transcript" – "I find Scientology's hijacking of the holocaust sickening. After 90 minutes I feel as though they're taking control of my mind and I can't bear another second of it."
  21. ^ Church of Scientology (Producer) (2007) "BBC Panorama: Exposed" [Video] United Kingdom: Church of Scientology – "I reacted under pressure, to your attempt, to brainwash me." [Filmed segment] (1:04–1:08)
  22. ^ a b Sweeney, John (14 May 2007). "Row over Scientology video". BBC News. Retrieved 21 January 2008.
  23. ^ a b Joe Childs, Thomas C. Tobin (23 June 2009). "Leaving the Church of Scientology: a huge step". St Petersburg Times. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  24. ^
  25. ^ Joe Childs, Thomas C. Tobin (23 June 2009). "Scientology: Ecclesiastical justice". St Petersburg Times. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  26. ^ a b "John Sweeney revisits the Church of Scientology". BBC's Panorama series. September 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2010.

External links