Magazine article The Spectator

After Sweeney's Rant at the Scientologists, Is It OK to Kick Interviewees?

Magazine article The Spectator

After Sweeney's Rant at the Scientologists, Is It OK to Kick Interviewees?

Article excerpt

Ah, now, this is what we pay our licence fee for. A maniac screaming at a maniac. I hope you caught the latest edition of the BBC's Panorama, during which the presenter, John Sweeney, went berserk at a spokesman for the Church of Scientology -- bellowing in his face at full volume in the manner of an inmate at Rampton being told that his pornography allowance has been stopped. If you didn't see the show itself, then check out the incident on YouTube on the internet -- it's been posted there by the Scientologists as if to say look, everybody, this is what we have to put up with, abuse and harrassment. The clip is quite wonderful -- perhaps the most arresting moment of TV this year and utterly hilarious. Sweeney has latterly apologised for his behaviour, and the BBC announced that he had been given a 'severe reprimand'.

I daresay the Corporation's deep and abiding regret at the incident will have been counterbalanced by its pleasure at the doubling or maybe quadrupling of Panorama's usual audience figures as a result of all the publicity. Perhaps this is the way forward for all of the Corporation's news and current affairs presenters -- to abuse interviewees and perhaps kick or punch them. Brings in the punters.

In fact, there are certain sorts of people whom the BBC thinks it's all well and good to be fairly nasty to, and Scientologists are among them. Indeed, there are certain groups of people whom the BBC feels that its personnel must roundly abuse or even physically chastise if it is going to give them airtime, such as, for example, the British National Party, or members of Islamic groups that are not on the ever-shifting list of politically OK Islamic groups. These people all come under category one in the BBC producer guidelines. In each case, the presenter is required to shout at these people because they are plainly, obviously, horrible -- you will remember the Newsnight interview, for example, in which BNP leader, Nick Griffin, was denied the chance to answer a single question. And any BBC interview with a Muslim mullah who has hooks instead of hands. The Scientologists do not quite fall into this special category; under those aforementioned guidelines, they come in category two -- people towards whom the presenter should display contempt, quiet hostility and open dislike, but should not actually punch or scream at. Members of the Conservative party and Ukip, all Israelis other than those who are activists within 'peace' groups, evangelistic Christians, supporters of the Countryside Alliance, Roman Catholics, paedophiles and chairmen of multinational corporations are similarly covered by the category two requirements. Category three, meanwhile, demands that the presenter affect an attitude of studied indifference and mild disdain and applies to interviews with most members of the present government, unless they were against the war in Iraq, in which case they get the category four treatment, which is also handed out to pop stars who wish for the African debt burden to be written off, all disabled people, 'ordinary' members of ethnic minorities and especially 'moderate' Muslims, all charity spokeswomen and bearded scientists in spectacles who insist that the earth is going to turn into a cinder by the year 2012. …

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