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Scientology And Me BBC Panorama.png
The opening title to Panorama: Scientology and Me
Format Current affairs · Documentary
Created by Panorama · John Sweeney
Presented by Jeremy Vine
Country of origin United Kingdom
Running time 30 minutes
Original channel BBC One
Original airing 14 May 2007
External links
Official website

Scientology and Me was a television documentary broadcast 14 May 2007 as part of the BBC's Panorama series. 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, who did not want detractors or perceived enemies of the church to be interviewed or included in the documentary.[1]

The scale of the controversy intensified when the Church of Scientology released a 40 second clip of video footage showing the segment of a screaming argument between John Sweeney and Scientologist Tommy Davis at the Psychiatry: An Industry of Death museum, regarding Sweeney's use of the word "cult" to describe the Church of Scientology.[2] In the argument, Sweeney yelled "You were not there at the beginning of the interview! You were not there! You did not hear or record all the interview!". The interview that Sweeney is referring to is the conversation between him and critic Shawn Lonsdale.[3] Despite the lobbying of British MPs by the Church of Scientology for the documentary to be scrapped, airing of Scientology and Me went ahead on May 14.[4] The episode garnered the highest ratings for Panorama since September of the previous year, with a peak of 4.9 million viewers in the UK.[5]



The documentary itself was intended to be a documentary investigating the claims of both critics of the Church of Scientology and the Church itself to see if the Church "still deserved its sinister reputation".[6] In the introduction Sweeney outlines his documentary investigation into the reputation of the Church of Scientology, its affiliated celebrities and current activities, and begins with an edited version of a statement issued in 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 "Schizophrenic, bizarre, ... paranoid[;] ... an organisation that harasses its enemies ... and abuses the trust of its members".[7][8] Sweeney also notes at this part of the documentary that the decision has been derided by the Church of Scientology since the court date by their claim that the decision was made based upon circumstantial and discredited evidence.[9]

In describing the affiliated members of Scientology, the documentary refers to Scientology members as an "all-star cast list", and imposes an interview of John Travolta, who speaks about the longevity of his career, and the subsequent demise of others being due to the influence, or lack thereof of Dianetics.[10][11] As a means of beginning with Criticism of the Church or its practices, the documentary moves onto an interview in which Sweeney talks with a mother, known as "Sharon"[12], who had been disconnected from her daughter, who had chosen to distance herself from her after taking a weekend with other Scientologists and reading several books, which she claimed had changed her life. At this time, Sweeney explains the concept of a "Disconnect" 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."


On 10 May video footage filmed by the Church of Scientology was released on YouTube[13] and on DVD[14] showing Sweeney's outburst towards Scientologist representative Tommy Davis. The Church of Scientology also presented to the broadcaster a set of 154 breaches of BBC guidelines which they claimed Sweeney and his team broke, though Sandy Smith responded that "The 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 the video Sweeney shot on its website to give context to the argument before the documentary was aired, though they had already known about the outburst long before the YouTube clip was uploaded since a description of Sweeney losing his temper was included in TV guide listings for the documentary.[16]

Scientologists also later complained of bigotry towards the church due to perceived derogatory comments of Sweeney in his interviews with Scientology members. John Travolta lobbied MPs to stop the documentary from being aired due to Sweeney's outburst towards fellow Scientologist, Tommy Davis.[17] Both Sweeney and his producer, Sandy Smith have apologised for his behaviour, with Sweeney apologising after the incident[18][19] which he cites as a by-product of Scientology's "Psychiatry: An Industry of Death" "hijacking of the Holocaust" and attempts to control his mind.[20][21] Sweeney said about 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] Sweeney later said of the incident, "I look like an exploding tomato and shout like a jet engine and every time I see it, it makes me cringe." The Church of Scientology, through a spokesman, denied Sweeney's statement regarding a quick apology at the time the Church posted its own material regarding the matter on the Internet.[2]

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]

Scientology leader David Miscavige was unhappy with the church's handling of the documentary, and was to punish Church spokesman Mike Rinder 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]

See also


  1. ^ "Scientology and Me: transcript". BBC News. 2007-05-11. Retrieved 2007-05-28.  -- "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."
  2. ^ a b "Church of Scientology cameras capture BBC reporter's rant", Houston Chronicle, May 15, 2007 
  3. ^ "Scientology fights back against BBC". ABC News. 2007-05-17. Retrieved 2008-01-21. 
  4. ^ (Travolta Spearheads Scientologists' attack on BBC) Daily Mail
  5. ^ (TV ratings) The Guardian
  6. ^ 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."
  7. ^ 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"
  8. ^ Breckenridge, J. Jr. (1994), "Brechenridge Decision - (No. C 420153)" John Breckenridge Jr. Copyright
  9. ^ 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."
  10. ^ BBC, et al. (2007). "Scientology and Me: transcript" --"SWEENEY: It's the church with an all star cast list.
  11. ^ 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..."
  12. ^ BBC, et al. (2007). "Scientology and Me: transcript"
  13. ^ John Sweeney - BBC Panorama Reporter at work (Scientologist Video of events) - YouTube clip
  14. ^ (Travolta and DVD Distribution by Scientology) The Daily Mail 14th May 2007
  15. ^ (The BBC man, The Scientologist) The Guardian 13 May 2007
  16. ^ "Travolta accuses BBC reporter of bigotry and animosity". ABC News. 2007-05-14. 
  17. ^ "John Travolta lobbying BBC to kill documentary on Scientology". Cinematical. 2007-05-14. Retrieved 2007-05-28.  -- John Travolta sending 100,000 copies of Sweeney shouting at Tommy Davis to MPs.
  18. ^ "Editor defends Scientology report". BBC News. 2007-05-14. Retrieved 2007-05-28. 
  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 (2007-05-14). "Row over Scientology video". BBC News. Retrieved 2008-01-21. 
  23. ^ a b Joe Childs, Thomas C. Tobin (June 23, 2009). "Leaving the Church of Scientology: a huge step". St Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  24. ^ Joe Childs, Thomas C. Tobin (June 23, 2009). "The Truth Run Down". St Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  25. ^ Joe Childs, Thomas C. Tobin (June 23, 2009). "Scientology: Ecclesiastical justice". St Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 

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