Call For Media and Government Investigation

of Sathya Sai Baba And his worldwide cult, the Sathya Sai Organization

Of Anger. BBC’s John Sweeney and the Scientologists.

Posted by Barry Pittard on May 16, 2007

bbc-panoramas-john-sweeny-yelling.jpgPhoto: John Sweeney, of BBC Panorama in a fit of anger. Panorama is BBC television’s Current Affairs flagship.

The film footage on YouTube, the BBC website etc., of the BBC Panorama journalist losing his temper explosively at a scientologist has provoked a huge stir. It may prove that neither side acted well.

Below are photo clips from the BBC’s The Secret Swami. Video clips are available by clicking Here. Caught by the BBC’s hidden camera in a temper at the BBC team’s asking of perfectly reasonable and proper questions is Dr Michael Goldstein of Covina, southern California, U.S.A. He is the world head of Sathya Sai Baba’s powerful, immensely wealthy worldwide Sathya Sai Organization, which Sai Baba says is THE divine organization on the entire planet and about to come under his sway, as God fully incarnate, before he dies in 2022.


When the BBC was making The Secret Swami (2004), I was intensively involved for seven months in providing documentation and internationally coordinating former Sai Baba follower accounts of sexual molestation of young males and other very serious allegations about him and his Sathya Sai Organization to the BBC.

Broadcaster Guidelines and Support of Staff

One of the key issues in the confrontation between BBC Panorama’s John Sweeney and a scientologist concerns broadcaster guidelines. There are areas like recruitment and vetting, and support with stress management (especially prior to difficult assignments) that need to be addressed. On the other hand, it may be that sometimes the very feisty reporter is the very person to stand up to bullies and others in cover-up mode. Do we want mild-mannered, untrepid investigative journalists? The solutions need be creative, rather than either draconian and stifflingly rule-bound, or wimpish.

Journalistic Standards and Ethics

There will need to be a discussion about respect and courtesy expected to be shown towards an interview subject. However – while the case for civilized behaviour and the avoidance of shouting at an interviewee does not need to be argued – it is important to clarify strategies that may be practised when an investigative team is faced with, for example, lies, evasions, subterfuges, harassment, etc. In the present furore both sides are alleging improper harassment over a period. Whatever may be the case, a broadcaster must not be remiss, no less than a judge or doctor or teacher etc., must be remiss.

What Gets Obscured?

The sad result is that the BBC’s reputation for being the best and most reliable broadcaster in the world has been damaged. The fact that it may be the biggest does, of course, incur the greater risk that, sooner or later, a BBC journalist or production team will err. It would be a pity if any excellence of John Sweeney in the past gets obscured by the incident, just as it would be wrong for any demonstrable good the scientologists may have done in drug rehabilitation to be obscured. However, good works – and the Sathya Sai Organization most assuredly does many – should not obscure proper investigation of any improper conduct by it or its founder.

At the same time, what if the truth about evasive, authoritarian cults is obscured? Do we want that? Do we want to succumb to the fear of the power of, for example, wealthy cults that are litigious? Or ones that are able to buy favours of politicians, governments, police and so on?

Who Will Run Risks, If Not Media Like the BBC?

Ironically enough, risks and boldness are the very essence of excellent investigative journalism – especially in the face of those individuals and organizations that would so powerfully cover up. Are there many media and other institutions big and powerful enough to stand up to extremely powerfully endowed organizations like Scientology and the Sathya Sai Organization? Let us not emasculate the few watchdogs we have. Although, let us encourage them to take necessary steps to monitor, anticipate and reduce e.g., unnecessary stress factors on professionals that would lead to bad messes. 

In the case of The Secret Swami though I think the BBC team (possibly because most on it were rather young) was in some areas less than competent – that the BBC was right to sanction the use of a hidden camera in the case of Dr Michael Goldstein, who, along with his associates, had been extremely evasive. This, in a area where the public has a right-to-know.

Excerpt of Transcript of The Secret Swami, in which Dr Michael Goldstein, the world head of the Sathya Sai Organization, becomes angry and evasive.

Tanya Datta: Why don’t you have thorough investigations, instead of just asking one question to one person?
Michael Goldstein: What do you mean by thorough investigation?
2’nd Interviewer: Objective investigators, not someone asking the perpetrator whether he, he carried out the act. But someone, you know, a proper legal process or a legalistic process should I say.
Tanya Datta: Yes.
Michael Goldstein: Because I don’t believe that’s appropriate with Sai Baba.
2’nd Interviewer: Why not?
Michael Goldstein: Because my heart and my conscience tell me that it’s not possible.

Further Resources:

Sai Baba Saved Devotees From 9/11 Says Dr Michael Goldstein
The BBC’s ‘The Secret Swami’ – A Revision

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2 Responses to “Of Anger. BBC’s John Sweeney and the Scientologists.”

  1. Daniel said

    As you posted your comment in UK Media Blog headed ‘private’, then I shan’t be publishing your comment (obviously).

    This a big problem within the BBC. Whilst their journalistic capability and news broadcasting etc. may be the best in the world, there are still massive shortcomings in regard to their shock-docs. They use the ‘editorial justification’ loophole within the Ofcom code to just ignore regulation completely.

    After all, the difference between editorial justification and being ruled as causing offence to a religion is often separated by a very thin margin.


  2. […] Any temptation to obtain a good laugh from silly beliefs or practices should at all costs be avoided. It is no laughing matter that, for example, young people can get themselves horribly enmeshed in cult life, just as we can lose them via drugs and alcohol. Trustfully, by better awareness among broadcasters’ of their journalists getting too close to their stories, (BBC) John Sweeny-like confrontations will be avoided. See my article, Of Anger. BBC’s John Sweeney and the Scientologists. […]

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