BBC, Scientology clash over documentary

LONDON: A fierce publicity campaign by the Church of Scientology this month to paint a BBC documentary as unfair highlights the new paradigm media outlets face as subjects turn the tables on the formerly faceless interviewers.

LONDON: A fierce publicity campaign by the Church of Scientology this month to paint a BBC documentary as unfair highlights the new paradigm media outlets face as subjects turn the tables on the formerly faceless interviewers.

Mike Rinder, a Scientology spokesman, said that the church originally received an e-mail from BBC journalist John Sweeney saying he was interested in pursuing a story on Scientology, but that the crew showed up without coordinating interviews. The church then started filming the activities of the BBC crew.

"It seem[ed] like he's not really interested in doing the story about ‘What is the Church of Scientology,' but that he's got some preconceived story in mind," Rinder said. "So that was when we started filming."

One bit of the footage, a clip of Sweeney ranting loudly, leaked to YouTube and spread quickly across the Internet. Sweeney later apologized for losing his temper, but he and his editor both defended the editorial integrity of the piece overall.

Meanwhile, the church itself created a Web site, bbcpanorama-exposed.org, detailing its objections to the BBC story. The group also produced a DVD, distributed free through the Web site, which tells its side of the story.

"If this happened to us, it's probably happened to a lot of other people," Rinder said. "We have probably started a trend of documenting what happens with the media...things that usually the public would not see."

Naomi Luland, the BBC show's internal publicist, said via e-mail, "The BBC is committed to impartial, fair and accurate journalism and despite the hinderances and difficulties we were presented with in trying to make this documentary we believe that it fulfills that remit."

She added that while the BBC believed that Sweeney's outburst was "clearly inappropriate," the network felt that "overall the filming was carried out properly and fairly."

The BBC's piece aired on May 14 and is still available on their Web site.

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