How Scientologists pressurise publishers

How Scientologists pressurise publishers

Last week we learned that Amazon.co.uk has bowed to pressure to stop selling a book by a former senior Irish Scientologist. The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology (Merlin Publishing, Dublin) describes John Duignan’s 21 years in the religion, not all of it a happy tale. According to Amazon, “Unfortunately, we have had to withdraw The Complex by John Duignan in the UK because we received a specific allegation that a passage in the book is defamatory regarding an individual named in the book”. Other bookshops are also thought to have been warned not to stock the book. And everyone who has ever encountered the Church of Scientology sighs and says, “Here we go again.”

Scientology has a long history of trying to suppress material written about it that it doesn’t like. Several times they’ve taken legal action to try and stop websites revealing their teachings – particularly those which, to outsiders, might look a bit odd. (I won’t quote them, but just type “Xenu” into a search engine, then sit back and marvel.)

With books, their usual tactic is to get their solicitors to send out letters alleging defamation; I had one myself a few years ago. If bookshops receive such a letter, most of them chicken out immediately. They lose very little by not stocking a book – except their honour.

I was lucky. Knowing Scientology’s reputation for litigiousness, when I wrote my second book on new religions eight years ago I had long discussions with a senior Scientologist. Eventually it seemed as if we’d reached an agreement: if I didn’t tell the Xenu story, they wouldn’t sue me for saying several other things they didn’t like. We shook hands on what I thought was a deal – a gentlemen’s agreement – in a tea shop somewhere in Covent Garden.

But as Samuel Goldwyn said, a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. As the book was at the printers a long letter arrived from top libel lawyers Peter Carter-Ruck & Partners, accusing me of several counts of defamation in the previously-agreed chapter. Fortunately my publishers had a good lawyer; we made a few changes and went ahead and published, and never heard a word from Scientology or their lawyers again.

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