The news that Cardiff councillor John Dixon could face disciplinary action after implying in a tweet that the Church of Scientology was “stupid” has caused consternation online. But Scientologists often complain about representations of them in print, broadcast and online (as is their right).
My own experience of this came in winter 2003/2004, when I was working at New Humanist magazine.
We ran an article by young radio journalists Sam Washington and Phil Kemp. Sam and Phil had made an radio documentary about alleged abuse within the Church of Scientology. The programme had won the BBC File on 4 Investigative Journalism Award.
Sam and Phil had been students of New Humanist Associate Editor Sally Feldman, and approached her suggesting they turn their research into a print article. Being a magazine dedicated to critiquing religion, we were happy to accept.
When the Scientologists got wind of the publication, all hell broke loose. The Scientologists repeatedly called the office making demands. They asked for a retraction, and threatened to report us to the Press Complaints Commission; they accused the journalists of skulduggery. They requested we pass on contact details of the two young reporters. When we called File on 4, they told us they had been subjected to a similar barrage after they had recognised Washington and Kemp’s work with the award. At this point, Sam Washington was actually working at File on 4.
Kemp and Washington insisted they had presented their findings to Graeme Wilson, the public affairs director of the Church of Scientology, and offered him an opportunity to make a representation in the article (in which he is quoted).
New Humanist eventually reached an agreement with Wilson, and ran a letter from him in which he variously described Washington and Kemp’s work as “disingenuous”, threw doubt on the reliability of their sources, and talked up the church’s astounding success.
This put New Humanist in an awkward position, as we were publishing a letter casting doubts on our own contributors’ professionalism. We were fortunate that they understood and didn’t leave NH caught between two complaints.