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15 May 2007

The BBC’s Mr Angry

Why John Sweeney should be forgiven for losing it on Panorama's Scientology investigation

By Martin Bright

When I first saw the clip of my old friend and colleague John Sweeney doing his “exploding tomato” act on YouTube my heart sank. But the more I find out about the behaviour of the Church of Scientology toward him and his team the more understandable his behaviour becomes.

Beyond anything else, last night’s Panorama was a brilliant piece of television that showed in graphic terms just how weird these people are. Strategically it was the wrong way to deal with this most buttoned-up, controlled and controlling of cults. John shouldn’t have allowed himself to be provoked and he’s probably right to apologise for his outburst.

We British are not used to losing our cool, but sometimes it really is OK to get angry — especially with religious fanatics. I still remember how annoyed I felt when I lost my temper on a public platform with Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the former head of the Muslim Council of Britain. But then he had just defended sharia punishments, including the stoning of women. As one member of the audience said to me afterwards, some things are worth being upset about.

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