MY INTERVIEW WITH THE BRITISH BROADCASTING COMPANY PANORAMA PROGRAM TITLED: "IN THE NAME OF SATAN?"
by Lauren Stratford
In October of 1992, I received a phone call from a friend of mine in Great Britain. "Oh Lauren!" Her voice sounded excited as she continued. "Listen, a Christian man who is host of the Panorama TV program on the BBC is coming up to my house to interview me. His name is Martin Bashir. He's doing a program on Satanism, and he said that he would do an interview that would vindicate me." (My friend, who works with survivors of ritual abuse, has continually been the subject of ongoing harsh criticism in the media.)
Not many days later, I received another phone call from my British friend. This time, her voice sounded frantic. "Lauren, Mr. Bashir just left. He tricked me. He never intended to vindicate me. He tore me apart in the interview. Watch out, Lauren. He's on his way to the United States. Don't let him interview you. He'll do the same to you."
Sure enough, not many days later, I received a call from this man, and, of course, he used the same line on me that he had used on my friend. I told him that I knew what he had done to my friend in Great Britain and that I wasn't about to let the same thing happen to me. But, after a couple of calls later, he convinced me that he was on the up and up and would I at least talk to him in a no recording and no filming casual talk about whatever message I wanted to give to survivors? I finally consented. After all, I decided, what harm could be in that?
I chose a place that was wide open where people could see us. It was a park that was a square block of flat land with few trees. Mr. Bashir met me where I parked my car. On our way to the picnic bench where we would sit and talk, he noticed something in my hand. In a concerned tone of voice, he asked me if the thing I was carrying in my hand was a recorder and was I going to record our informal talk? In hindsight, I should have seen a red flag go up, but at the time, I saw it only as a benign observation and question. "No, this isn't a recorder," I responded. "It's a cellular phone." I've learned my lesson well. I should have brought a recorder. Too late now, at least for this interview.
For over an hour we sat in the hot sun at a picnic bench and discussed the plight of survivors, how they were not being believed by some, how they were being discredited, how desperately they needed to be accepted and helped, and most importantly, what needed to be done for survivors so they could have a place where their healing from their nightmare of memories could begin.
Interspersed between our verbal exchanges, Mr. Bashir kept saying words to the effect, "Oh, Lauren, I can think of no one better to speak to survivors than you. You can reach them better than anyone I know. All I need is twenty minutes of your time. Just twenty minutes. You'll have the opportunity to help scores of survivors."
Still I was hesitant. Mr. Bashir then held his head in his hands and said woefully, "I'm in such a bind, Lauren. Catherine (a psychologist and a dear friend of mine) is too busy to be interviewed. I was depending on her input as well. What am I going to do? I need you so badly. Please help me," he pleaded.
This man was as smooth as melted butter. He was soft-spoken and, worst of all, he was so convincing. Even though I had come to just talk to this man about we who are survivors and not to do a filmed interview, I finally gave in to his pleadings.
One thing I have learned about survivors is that we have an innate desire to show the world how normal we really are and that somehow, if we try hard enough, we can convince our critics that ritual abuse does happen.
"All right. I'll let you interview me, but," I emphasized, "if you begin to mess with me like you did my friend in Great Britain, I'm going to get up and leave." Somehow, I felt that I had given him sufficient warning that he had better "fly right"...NOT!
I met Mr. Bashir about two hours later in a small hotel room across from the park. There was only a video camera, a camera man, a sound man, Mr. Bashir and myself. I asked Mr. Bashir is he had a contract for me to sign. All the television programs I've done for the United States networks have made sure I signed a contract before any filming was begun. He said we didn't need one. That was red flag number two which I also ignored. But I had hastily prepared a contract which read in part:
1. A copy of the Panorama program on Satanism will be sent to me in VCR form within the week that the program is aired (which was to be less than one month after my interview).
2. This program will not be shown on any other network other than the BBC without my written permission.
Even though Mr. Bashir acted impatient and irritated, he reluctantly signed one of the copies. I asked him to sign the other copy. He said he didn't need one. I informed him that I needed him to sign a second copy so he would have one. He hastily scribbled his name on the second copy and handed it to his sound man.
The interview began. Or, I should more aptly say, the infamous interview began, for it was more like a personal interrogation, not a helpful interview for survivors. Mr. Bashir leaned down, picked up a large notebook and put it on his lap. Upon opening it, I saw pages of handwriting. Unfortunately, I was to learn all too soon what the handwriting was about. Suddenly, the look on Mr. Bashir's face changed and his words were no longer like melted butter. He leaned back in his chair and began.
There were no questions about or inquiries into the plight of survivors. In fact, survivors were never mentioned in a favorable or a believable light for the entire interview. Not one thing Mr.Bashir and I talked about for over one hour in the park was even mentioned. It became obvious to me that his sole intention all along was to discredit me and the stories of all the survivors.
At one point nearing the end of the interview, Mr. Bashir said, "I put it to you that you're not telling the truth." I was so stunned by this accusation that I didn't know what to say to him. "You could admit you weren't," he responded. "But that wouldn't be the truth," I replied.
This type of questioning went on for twenty-five minutes. I finally mustered all the courage I could find within myself and said, "Mr. Bashir, we just talked in the park for over an hour about how my interview was to solely be on how to help survivors." At that point, Mr. Bashir took off his microphone and said, "I have nothing more to say. This interview is over." He was not interested in anything more. He got what he wanted, and he was through with me. I walked out of the room feeling not only devastated and in a state of shock, but once again, I felt that I had been victimized.
As I drove home, I sobbed. I kept hearing the pre-interview warning I had given to Mr. Bashir: "If you mess with me like you did with my friend in Great Britain, I'll walk out." But I know that if I had torn off my microphone and stomped out of the room in a huff, it would have given a sign to the viewers that I couldn't take the heat. Once I got into the interview, no matter how unethical it was, it was good that I remained calm and gave clear and definitive answers to the devastating questions of the interviewer. I held my own, and for that, I am proud. But I was crushed. My support team rallied around me and kept me in one piece. The words, "hurt", "angry", "devastated", "humiliated", and "betrayed", don't begin to describe the host of feelings that overwhelmed me for weeks after.
I waited for the video. It never came. I wrote letters of protest to the deputy editor of Panorama, to the Director General and to the Secretary of the British Broadcasting Commission. (The British Broadcasting Commission is an independent statutory body to consider and adjudicate specific types of complaints about radio and television programs.) I finally heard from the deputy editor of Panorama which read, "...Mr. Bashir does not recognize the picture you paint of it [the matters I raised]. In my view the discussions prior to, and the interview itself, were carried out in accordance with our normal practice." I responded, in part, that either Mr. Bashir was lying or that he had an early onset of Alzheimer's disease.!
The video still didn't come, even after three months after the program was aired. I heard from a friend in Australia who wrote that she had just watched an interview of me on a program called Panorama on ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Company). She called the interview, "ghastly".
By this time, both clauses in the contract had been broken, and I felt that it was time for my attorney to step in. He sent a letter to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission along with copies of the nine letters I had written, mentioning that "one of my client's rights was litigation." Almost immediately, I received a video of the Panorama program on Satanism. As I viewed it, I saw that most of the program was about how therapists get children to admit to acts of ritual abuse by asking them leading questions and by coercing them into saying things they didn't want to say and things that weren't true.
At one point, Mr. Bashir even accused the United States in the past four years of bringing our "propaganda" of ritual abuse to Great Britain via American training videos and written materials. And it was then, and only then, that such stories of ritual abuse began to pop up in Great Britain.
Only one pro-survivor statement in the entire program was allowed. Geoffrey Dickens, a conservative Member of Parliament said that these cases of ritual abuse were widespread and were going on in most towns in the United Kingdom. Mr. Dicken's statement was given no response.
My attorney and I then received a letter from the Broadcasting Complaints Commission saying that the Commission was "entertaining" my allegation "that I was unfairly treated because I would not have participated had I not been mislead about the nature and purpose of the filmed interview I gave for it." At the time of this writing, the case is still in this stage.
What have I learned from this experience? What I have learned I pass on to you who are survivors and who are approached by the media for interviews.
1. If you have any hesitation about granting an interview, follow your instincts. Do not ignore red flags.
2. If possible, always do a pre-interview with the interviewer or whomever is sent to represent him or her.
3. Always record the pre-interview and the interview itself.
4. Always have a trusted and informed person with you at both the pre-interview and the interview - preferably, the same person.
5. Always read contracts carefully. If you do not understand something, ask for it to be explained.
6. Know that you are in charge. You do not have to answer questions with which you are uncomfortable.
7. If you are in your beginning steps of healing, make sure that your healing remains your priority. Nothing supersedes that! You are the most important equation in your healing process. Compliance with the media, be it newspaper, magazine, television or radio ranks a far second below your healing.
8. Always discuss with your therapist, your pastor or whomever you trust whether or not they feel it is safe for you to grant an interview. We have been taught to get a second opinion on matters concerning our physical health. Why should it be any different with matters concerning our emotional health?
In spite of the caution we still must heed,
the tide has turned.
There are too many of us now who have come out.
We will be heard!