BBC denies 'death threat' in Scientology row

The Telegraph, UK/May 13, 2007
By Stephen Adams

The BBC has hit back at accusations that it orchestrated a demonstration against Scientologists during which a "terrorist death threat" was allegedly made.

It comes as a bitter row develops between the Corporation and Scientologists over a highly critical Panorama documentary about the religion, in which a veteran reporter lost his temper and screamed for 30 seconds at a Church member.

The BBC has seriously reprimanded John Sweeney for the outburst, which the journalist has admitted was "wrong and stupid".

The church posted the clip of Mr Sweeney's rant on the self-broadcasting website YouTube, and has now distributed 100,000 copies of a DVD it made of the BBC crew filming the documentary.

It released the DVD to MPs, peers and religious leaders in an offensive to counter allegations made against Scientologists in the Panorama film. The BBC documentary will be aired on BBC1 tomorrow.

Today Sandy Smith, the Panorama editor, hit back at claims that the BBC had orchestrated a demonstration against the Scientologists while filming the documentary.

He said: "Their DVD contains two grossly defamatory claims about us - one, that we staged a demonstration against Scientology and two, that a terrorist death threat was made.

"It is absolutely outrageous to suggest that the BBC would organise a demonstration - why would we?"

He claimed that the Scientologists wrote the script for the DVD in a "curious way" but that it "clearly implied that a terrorist death threat was made".

Mr Smith claimed his Panorama film crew had become the latest in a long line of journalists, authors and disillusioned former Scientologists to suffer from an official Church policy known as "Fair Game".

Before he died, the church's founder L Ron Hubbard, declared that anyone who opposed the religion was "Fair Game" and could legitimately be "tricked, sued or lied to and destroyed".

Mr Smith said: "This is the most clear 'Fair Game' smear tactic from the Scientologists. They have accused people of murder, before, they have falsified allegations against people, and now they are doing it against us."

A BBC spokesman added: "These allegations are clearly laughable and utter nonsense."

But a Scientology spokesman replied: "The BBC's statements are incorrect."

Mike Rinder, a Scientology official, said the church had been forced to film John Sweeney because the BBC crew had decided to paint a negative picture of the church before starting filming.

Mr Rinder said: "It became clear to us that his story was pre-written. He wouldn't let the facts get in the way, so we decided to do a John Sweeney on John Sweeney."

This morning Mr Sweeney said his behaviour had resulted in him being seriously reprimanded by the BBC.

"What I did was wrong and stupid and I am embarrassed about it. I let down the team and I let down the BBC," he said. "It was my seventh day with the Scientologists and I snapped. I have had my arse kicked by the BBC but they have not fired me."

Scientologists believe humans are tainted by the remnants of aliens' souls who were dumped on Earth and blown up with nuclear bombs.

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