Private Eye | No 1391 | 1 May-14 May 2015 | Pg 13
When the Alex Gibney film “Going Clear: Hollywood and the Prison of Belief” was released in the US, it made a considerable impact. Scientology critics in the UK were eager to see it broadcast here by the satellite broadcaster Sky Atlantic. What effect would it have on the membership of the Church of Scientology here (which, according to the 2011 census, had less than 2,418 members)?
The book on which this film was based (“Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief“by Lawrence Wright) did not find a UK publisher because the UK law regarding defamation (i.e. slander and libel) was a repressive mess. No UK company dared touch the book for fear of being sued for libel by the Church of Scientology. they would have been required to prove every point and, even if they had won, it would have cost them a fortune (which would have broken many companies).
Since then, the new, more liberal Defamation Act 2003 (which took until the first of January 2014 to pass into law) completely removed this obstacle. What could go wrong? A very strange political situation in Northern Ireland and the involvement of David Miscavige, that’s what.
Sky Atlantic,who had bought the rights, initially decided not to broadcast Gibney’s “Going Clear”in the UK. The reason why is explained after the break by “Private Eye”(a satirical magazine which is no stranger to repressive libel actions and has criticised the Church of Scientology before).
In short, Paul Tweed, a Lawyer retained by both David Miscavige (the ‘leader’ of the Church of Scientology) and Peter Robinson (The head of the Northern Irish government) has been instrumental in persuading the Northern Irish Government to retain the old defamation law.
This is to the advantage of the Church of Scientology (as represented by David Miscavige) because anything broadcast in Northern Ireland can be sued anywhere in the UK under the old, repressive provisions. Sky is a satellite broadcaster – it cannot avoid broadcasting in Northern Ireland – so “Going Clear” is off the menu for England, Scotland and Wales.
It is also to the advantage of Northern Irish politicians, who would likely have faced closer scrutiny by the media under the new law.
Finally, this situation is certainly to the advantage of Paul Tweed, who seems to have attracted a number of lucrative retainers.
The new law makes radical changes:
- Claimants have to show actual or probably serious harm before suing (which raises the bar considerably).
- New defences on the grounds of truth, honest opinion, and ‘publication on a matter of public interest’ are now in force.
- There is no longer an automatic presumption that libel cases would be tired by jury.
- It is now much more difficult for people from outside of the UK to sue here merely because they have a better chance of winning than they would in their own county (so-called ‘libel tourism’).
Ironically, Northern Ireland will now become the libel tourism capital of the UK – and the team of Miscavige and Tweed can insure that the intent of Parliament is frustrated.
Publications which are legal in England, Scotland and Wales cannot now appear because the authors and publishers can be sued if their work strays into Northern Ireland – a situation which is supported by the Church of Scientology.
Update 5th August 2015 – “Going Clear” to be Broadcast in September 2015
It seems that “Going Clear” will, after all, be broadcast in the UK, sometime in September 2015.
The question is, are ky going to call the Church of Scientology’s bluff, and broadcast it to the whole of the UK – including Northern Ireland – or selectively exclude the residents of NI.
Sky encrypt their content and you have to buy a subscription to decrypt and view the channels you want. It could be arranged so that subscribers in NI can’t decrypt this particular programme- and if it is only seen in England, Scotland and Wales, there is no legal problem.
Whatever happens there is going to be considerable political and PR fallout.
Scientology in Ireland
It’s not as if there is a thriving community of Scientologists in Northern Ireland. The Belfast Mission has been closed since at least January 2014, and only 44 people self-identified as Scientologists in the 2011 UK census (a figure which could include Independent Scientologists, who practice outside of the Church).
The Church of Scientology in the Republic of Ireland is not doing much better. In that country, the Church is required to open its books and income seems to have crashed – so much so that it is relying on interest-free loans from Scientologists throughout the word to pay its debts.
NB: that’s loans from individual Scientologists. If this money is never repaid, it won’t cost the Church of Scientology (which has estimated financial reserves of well over a billion US dollars) a penny.
Human Rights and Hypocrisy
The Church of Scientology operate a front group called “The Citizens Commission in Human Rights” (CCHR). Like all such front groups they do no real work in this area. Their activities are typically confined to distributing video clips and leaflets which appear to promote human rights. They do this because Scientology is a toxic brand, and recruitment is falling. The only way they can make contact with the public any more is under cover of a good cause.
The CCHR quote the Universal Declaration of Human rights as if they invented it – and one of the provisions they ‘promote’ is freedom of expression. At the same time, their ‘leader’ contributes to the suppression of freedom of expression in the UK. The hypocrisy could not be more blatant.