Good journalism relies on objectivity. When a reporter has an obvious biased agenda, goes out of his way to cultivate toxic sources to forward that agenda, and refuses to report both sides of a story, he no longer hews to the accepted standards of truth, objectivity and integrity demanded of any reporter.
John Sweeney has pursued his own personal anti-religious agenda in violation of established legal and ethical standards of unbiased and impartial reporting. Indeed, Sweeney has devolved over the years, morphing into a professional anti-Scientologist.
As a reporter for the BBC, Sweeney produced two programs on Scientology for BBC’s Panorama, one in 2007 and another in 2010. For both programs, Sweeney relied on a small group of disgruntled anti-Scientologists who had been removed from the Church for serious violations of the law and the ethical codes of the Church.
The legal codes governing the BBC, as well as standard journalistic practice, demand impartiality in news reporting. Sweeney, on the other hand, has abandoned all pretense of fairness in his efforts to produce shows that smear the Church and its members.
In 2007, when it became apparent that the Church was not going to get fair treatment from Sweeney, the Church turned its cameras on him, capturing Sweeney unable to contain his hatred and shrieking at a Church spokesperson in rage. Sweeney’s 15 minutes of notoriety were captured on camera and because of that brief film, over 1 million viewers were able to see the infamous “exploding tomato.”
That 2007 episode made Sweeney a textbook case for journalism classes in, as one journalist said, Exhibit A on “how not to handle an interview.”
A UK university journalism ethics class analyzed the 2007 Panorama program and tallied no less than 180 violations of BBC guidelines and official British Office of Communications media codes. That show included at least 10 unethical stunts and fictitious incidents. (See Panorama Exposed video.)
This incident, immortalized on YouTube and resulting in BBC reprimanding Sweeney, represents only one of many ways Sweeney violated his duties as a journalist.
In another incident, despite the Church having offered Sweeney unfettered access to his film crew and an agreement to provide any information he needed for his program, Sweeney ignored the offer and attempted to create a false impression that he was being blocked from doing his story. With camera crew in tow, Sweeney showed up at a Church facility in Los Angeles and climbed the stairs to a back entrance that was locked and seldom used. Staging his approach at a time when Church staff were all on duty providing religious services to parishioners, Sweeney made a show of knocking at the door, getting no answer and huffing off.
Sweeney aired this low-level trolling stunt as “evidence” that the Church barred him from all premises, despite offers from the Church to the contrary.
In an even more vicious performance, Sweeney appeared at a premiere of a film starring a noted actor and Scientologist. Media attended to report on the film. Not Sweeney. With his cameras rolling, his sole intent was to embarrass the actor and spew hate by shouting: “Are you a member of a sinister, brainwashing cult?” Sweeney at his most hateful and offensive.
Sweeney worked for the BBC until he was axed in July 2014. “It feels like it’s the end for me,” he said about his firing. Today, Sweeney stays in touch with his one-time “sources” and posts hate speech on anti-Scientology websites.
The Church’s Freedom Magazine published this Special Report documenting Sweeny’s actions: www.freedommag.org/special-reports/bbc.html.