By Stephen Pollard
May 15, 2007
One of my journalistic heroes is John Sweeney. A one-man justice machine, he is one of the few people in (to define it broadly) public life who is entirely a force for good, righting some terrible injustices. His most recent triumph was the case of Angela and Ian Gray (the couple wrongly convicted of poisoning their child with salt), which he wrote about in this Sunday Times piece.
He has been in the news this week because he lost his temper interviewing a spokesman for the Scientologists, in the course of a Panorama investigation. The cult put a clip of his temper loss out on YouTube in an effort to destroy his reputation and the message of his superb film.
Talk about backfiring! The Panorama film will doubtless have had far more viewers than otherwise, as a result of the publicity given to it by the cult's efforts to damage Sweeney. I urge you to watch it (you can see it here). Not only does it make clear that Sweeney's temper loss is understandable - I can't imagine how he kept his cool for as long as he did under the duress to which he was subjected - but it exposes the 'Church' of Scientology in the most effective way possible - through its representatives' own actions.
In 1984, Scientology was described by Mr Justice Latey as: "both immoral and socially obnoxious...it is corrupt, sinister and dangerous. It is corrupt because it is based on lies and deceit and has as its real objective money and power for Mr. Hubbard, his wife and those close to him at the top". The same year, in Los Angeles, Superior Court Judge Paul G. Breckenridge, Jr., called Scientology: "a vast enterprise to extract the maximum amount of money from its adepts by pseudo-scientific theories ... The organization clearly is schizophrenic and paranoid, and this bizarre combination seems to be a reflection of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard" .
I lambast the BBC regularly, but praise where it is due - its ramrod straight backing for its superb journalist, John Sweeney, and its commitment to making this necessary film deserves our gratitude. If only one potential recruit to Scientology is deterred, it will have been worth all Mr Sweeney's efforts.
UPDATE: As I suspected, the Scientologists' tactics backfired spectacularly. Panorama's audience was its biggest ever in its 8.30 slot:
Last night's edition of Panorama, called Scientology and Me, was watched by 4.4 million viewers with a 19% share, according to unofficial overnight figures.
The programme grew its audience by a million viewers during its 30-minute run, ending with a peak of 4.9 million in its second quarter hour.
Panorama's average of 4.4 million viewers beat the previous high in its new Monday night slot of 4.1 million, for its investigation into the GMTV phone-in scandal last month.