From 1996, The Flagship BBC News Programme “Newsnight” Versus Herber Jentzsch

newsnight logo1996 | BBC2 Television (UK) | Newsnight
View Online > | Part One | Part Two |  Download as mp4 > |Part One | Part Two |

In 1996 the Church of Scientology broadcast its first television advertisements in the UK. The ads themselves were practically content-free and apparently unsuccessful. No more appeared until 2014, and those too, sank without trace.

However, even back in 1996 Scientology’s reputation was poor and there was a lively debate about whether they should be allowed to advertise on television at all. The BBC’s flagship news programme “Newsnight” took an interest.

Their report is presented in two video windows below, in two parts. Part one provides background to the story, part two shows a studio debate which followed. It is of particular interest today because the Scientology representative who appears in both is one Heber Jentzsch.

When he appeared in this programme Jentzsch was a high-flying ‘executive’ of the Church of Scientology (President of the Church of Scientology International, no less).  Nominally, he still is. However, he has not been seen in public since 2004 and hardly ever leaves the Scientology compound where he lives. He is now widely believed to be nothing more than a figurehead for the authority of David Miscavige, Scientology’s present leader.

Part One of Two

At the beginning of the report, it is mentioned that permission to broadcast the proposed advertisements was held up by doubts about how accessible Scientology was to the public. This same issue that later prevented the Church of Scientology receiving charitable status (which confers tax concessions) in 1999. The charity commissioners felt that the services provided by religion which received public support should be freely accessible to that public. Scientology’s pay-as-you-go approach violated that principle.

There was also a problem with what the reporter characterises as, “[…] Scientology’s rather strange image” . This is illustrated at 1’18” by a reconstruction of Scientology’s Training Routine 8, which involves shouting orders at an ashtray. The question is asked “[…] is that a real religion that merits advertising space?”

At 1′ 30″ the ‘Reverend’ Heber Jentzsch makes his first appearance when a reporter (Jeremy Vine) decides to test the accessibility of Scientology ‘churches’ to the public by simply turning up unannounced and asking to come in (not a problem for most established places of worship).

At 2′ 06″ “[…] access is denied”. Instead, Jentzsch delivered a “sermon on the street” beginning at 2′ 24″  –   a short talk about the principles of Scientology which does not actually reveal any information.

At 3’00” the inevitable potted history of Scientology begins. It’s a little muddled (‘Engrams’ are described as the enemies of ‘Thetans’ and dianetics is confused with Scientology). It gives you an idea of the level of public awareness of Scientology a this time that even journalist working the BBC’s flagship news programme get confused.

At 3′ 27″, standing outside the Org, Vine quotes the 1984 High Court judgement by Mr Justice Lately in which Scientology was described as, “A religion based on lies and deceit whose real objectives were money and power”.

Vine illustrates how Scientology uses the law to suppress criticism from  less powerful people in an interview with Claudia Milne. She worked for the production company 20/20 who made the classic programme “Inside the Cult” for Carlton Television in 1995 (only a year before this edition of “Newsnight”). Milne describes how her staff were legally harassed while they were making their television documentary about Scientology and examines Scientology’s history of vexatious litigation, quoting L Ron Hubbard himself:

The purpose of a lawsuit it to harass and discourage rather than win. Don’t ever defend… always attack. Be alert to sue for slander at the slightest chance.

Beginning at 4′ 33″the attempts of the Church of Scientology to quash critical debate on early Internet forums is also examined and at 5′ 06″ the ex-Scientologist Bonnie Woods is interviewed about the legal harassment visited upon her by the Church of Scientology after speaking out.

At 5′ 30″ Jentzsch reappears as Vine’s report gives way to a studio interview, moderated by BBC presenter Peter Snow, in which he acts as spokesman for the Church of Scientology.

Part Two of Two

The studio debate includes Jentzsch, John Wadham, who represents  the National Council for Civil Liberties (now know simply as “Liberty”) and Member of Parliament David Mellor. It is moderated by BBC presenter Peter Snow. I will let the debaters speak for themselves.

In closing, I must say that Herber Jentzsch’s does  a remarkably good job representing the Church of Scientology in this programme, considering what an impossible job this is. Ironically, this is probably why he fell from favour.

Those who have seen the public speaking style of the present leader of Scientology, David Miscavige can plainly see that he is simply not very good at it, and his only TV interview (in 1992) was a PR calamity for the Church.  Jentzsch was so much better at both that he could have been perceived by Miscavige as representing a threat to his power within the Church.

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