BBC v Ofcom

Pride of Britain Awards - London

THE BBC have officially rejected all complaints against the Panorama programme Is Labour Anti-Semitic?

A spokeswomen told Press Gang yesterday: 

… the BBC Executive Complaints unit have now concluded their findings and have not upheld any complaints against the programme.

The Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) considered 49 cases, including one from the Labour Party.

In our last article Enter Ofcom that figure stood at 46.

On Friday, the BBC published its fortnightly bulletin which revealed that a further three cases had been rejected.

One of these is the Labour Party complaint. 

BBC_cover_08_b

ROGUE JOURNALISM
THIS IS the cover of the planned Press Gang report on the BBC’s rogue journalism. It’s similar to the one written by Press Gang editor Paddy French and Professor Brian Cathcart (a co-founder of Hacked Off) and published in June — Unmasked: Andrew Norfolk, The Times Newspaper And Anti-Muslim Reporting: A Case To Answer. Is The BBC Anti-Labour? will be published by Unmasked Books, price £10, at the end of November. Supporters are being asked to buy a copy in advance so it can appear before election day on December 12 — here’s the crowdfunder link. The plan is to have a demonstration outside the BBC and enough spare copies of the report to hand out to staff as they arrive for work.

Labour had branded the programme an “authored polemic” by veteran reporter John Ware.

It was “an overtly one-sided intervention in political controversy by the BBC,” the party said.

The BBC does not publish its findings but has previously said it “stands by its journalism and we completely reject any accusations of bias or dishonesty.”

A Press Gang investigation has found the programme biased and dishonest.

It was rogue journalism.

So serious a piece of rogue journalism that Press Gang is planning a crowdfunded report (see panel, left).

For nearly a century the BBC was the sole arbiter of whether it lived up to its lofty ideals.

But in April 2017 this self-regulation came to an end when the statutory broadcasting regulator Ofcom took over the role.

In our last article we revealed that 17 complainants have now taken their case to Ofcom.

They will be joined by the Labour Party. 

It’s Ofcom — one of the UK’s most powerful watchdogs — that will ultimately decide whether the Panorama programme lived up to the BBC’s high standards.

Ofcom also has its own Broadcasting Code  — a code based on the provisions of the 2003 Communications Act.

Ofcom will be a more rigorous judge than the BBC.

♦♦♦

THE BBC prides itself on its commitment to editorial integrity and accuracy.

In June 2019 — just one month before the Panorama programme — it published a new set of Editorial Guidelines.

This was the 7th edition of the key document that shapes the BBC’s approach to its journalism.

Chairman Sir David Clementi, a former banker, was emphatic:

… nothing is more important than the BBC’s reputation for independence, impartiality and editorial integrity … 

Director General Tony Hall was even more forthright:

It’s just a few short years since the term “fake news” entered our lexicon.

It’s now a weapon of choice used worldwide.

In a world of misinformation, our values have never been more important.

That’s why accuracy, impartiality and fairness are given such prominence in these Guidelines.

So, how was it that the BBC produced one of the most biased programmes in its entire history just a few weeks later?

♦♦♦

THE BBC’S Editorial Guidelines are crystal clear about the need for impartiality.

The introduction says the BBC is “committed to achieving due impartiality in all its output.”

The term ‘due’ means that the impartiality must be adequate and appropriate to the output, taking account of the subject and nature of the content, the likely audience expectation and any signposting that may influence that expectation.

It adds:

Due impartiality usually involves more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints.

We must be inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring that the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected.

The Panorama programme’s view of the Jewish membership of the Labour Party on the issue of anti-Semitism came from one perspective.

This was the position of the Labour-affiliated Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).

At least 9 of the 22 people interviewed in the Panorama programme are, or have been, senior figures in the Jewish Labour Movement.

There may be more — Press Gang is attempting to establish the actual figure.

Reporter John Ware failed to tell viewers that these nine interviewees were JLM members.

WARE SCREENSHOT

JOHN WARE
THE AWARD-WINNING reporter has made no secret of his opposition to Jeremy Corbyn. He wrote in the magazine Standpoint in 2017 that the Labour leader’s “entire political career has been stimulated by disdain for the West, appeasement of extremism, and who would barely understand what fighting for the revival of British values is really all about.” He has strong connections with Britain’s Jewish community and his children were brought up in the Jewish faith. In 2015 he was awarded a Commitment to Media Award by the Women’s International Zionist Organisation for “being sympathetic to Jewish concerns.” 
Photo: BBC 

The Jewish Labour Movement believes anti-Semitism is a serious problem in the Labour Party.

In November 2018 it asked the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to investigate the Labour Party’s “institutional anti-Semitism”.

In April 2019 the group passed a motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn over his alleged failure to deal with the crisis.

In the same month, JLM’s chairman Mike Katz made it clear the group would be selective in supporting candidates at the next general election.

“If you’re backing the leadership over the way they have handled anti-Semitism — then you’re absolutely not going to get our support,” he said.

Panorama failed to say that the JLM narrative is not the only one.

In fact, Labour’s Jewish membership is split over the issue of the scale of anti-Semitism in the party.

A different picture is provided by the pressure group Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL).

In a statement, JVL said:

… antisemitism regrettably exists in all areas of society, and needs to be guarded against. But the facts show that there is no more within Labour than outside, probably less.

And, despite the image fostered in the media, no party has been more rigorous than Labour in chasing it down.

The issue has been utilised by pro-Israel advocates, Jewish and otherwise, within the Labour Party and outside, in alliance with those in the media and political establishment who oppose Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing leadership.

Despite representing several hundred Jewish Labour Party members, no representative of JVL, or any of the other groups which hold similar views, was heard in the Panorama programme.

The Editorial Guidelines go on to state:

Where our content highlights issues on which others campaign, we must take care not to endorse those campaigns, or allow ourselves to be used to campaign to change public policy.

By not revealing the influence of the Jewish Labour Movement in its programme, Panorama was effectively, if secretly, endorsing its campaign.

The Guidelines on impartiality also emphasise that there are particular requirements for what are described as “controversial subjects”.

A “controversial subject” may be a matter of public policy or political or industrial controversy.

The Guidelines advise that:

When dealing with “controversial subjects” we must ensure that a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.

And the Guidelines go even further — introducing the concept of a “controversial subject” which is also a “major matter”.

The Guidelines say:

“Major matters” are usually matters of public policy … that are of national or international importance …

And they add:

When dealing with ‘major matters’, or when the issues involved are highly controversial and/or a decisive moment in the controversy is expected, it will normally be necessary to ensure that an appropriately wide range of significant views are reflected …

Allegations of widespread anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is clearly both a “controversial subject” and a “major matter”.

Panorama failed to “ensure that an appropriately wide range of significant views” were included in the programme.

In all these circumstances, it seems highly unlikely that the Panorama programme was not referred to senior management.

The fact that permission was given to extend the programme also suggests that senior managers — perhaps even Director General Tony Hall — were involved.

In other words, the Panorama programme was endorsed by the BBC at the highest level.

♦♦♦

The BBC Editorial Guidelines also insist on the need for “due accuracy.”

This commitment is fundamental to our reputation and the trust of audiences.

The term ‘due’ means that the accuracy must be adequate and appropriate to the output, taking account of the subject and nature of the content, the likely audience expectation …

The Guidelines require:

… all BBC output, as appropriate to its subject and nature, must be well sourced, based on sound evidence, and corroborated.

The BBC must not knowingly and materially mislead its audiences. We should not distort known facts, present invented material as fact or otherwise undermine our audiences’ trust in our content.

Did Panorama live up to those high ideals?

Take the allegation that Labour Party disputes investigator Ben Westerman personally encountered anti-Semitism in his inquiry into problems at the Liverpool Riverside constituency party.

Liverpool Riverside’s MP is Louise Ellman.

Panorama makes it clear that she is Jewish.

ELLMAN 3

LOUISE ELLMAN 
DAME LOUISE Ellman resigned from the Labour Party last month citing worries about anti-Semitism and opposition to Jeremy Corbyn as Leader. In 2019 the Jerusalem Post ranked her the world’s 23rd most influential Jew and the Times of Israel called her an “unabashed friend of Israel.” 
Photo: BBC

After Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader new members joined the party and there was inevitable friction between the old guard and the new members.

One of the newcomers was pensioner Helen Marks who is Jewish.

At the April 2016 constituency meeting there was a discussion about anti-Semitism.

Louise Ellman had said it was on the rise.

Marks suggested that any increase might be due in part to the actions of Israel over the Palestinian issue.

In making this remark, she had in mind a survey by the Community Security Trust which recorded a 500 per cent spike in anti-Semitism incidents following Israel’s actions in Gaza in 2014.

A few days later, an ally of Louise Ellman’s complained that this remark was anti-Semitic.

Labour held an investigation into what was happening in the constituency — and sent Ben Westerman from HQ’s disputes team to investigate.

In November 2016 Westerman interviewed Helen Marks who was accompanied by another elderly Jewish member known only as “R”.

“R” was present as a “silent friend” of Helen Marks.

(Press Gang knows the identity of “R” but has accepted her request to remain anonymous.)

In the Panorama programme reporter John Ware says of Westerman:

While interviewing one member he was confronted with the very anti-Semitism he’d been investigating.

Immediately after Ware’s comment, Ben Westerman told viewers:

WESTERMAN SCREENSHOT

BEN WESTERMAN 
THE LABOUR Party investigator sent to Liverpool to find out what was happening in Louise Ellman’s Riverside constituency. Although he claimed in the Panorama programme to have been the victim of anti-Semitism, his official Labour Party report did not mention the incident. Press Gang has attempted to contact Westerman — but he seems to have disappeared … 
Photo: BBC

We finished the interview, the person got up to leave the room and then turned back to me and said where are you from?

And I said what do you mean, where am I from ?

And she said I asked you where are you from?

And I said I’m not prepared to discuss this.

They said are you from Israel? 

What can you say to that?

You’re assumed to be in cahoots with the Israeli government, it’s this obsession with that that just spills over all the time into anti-Semitism.

Leaving aside the obvious question — how does asking if someone comes from Israel possibly be anti-Semitic? — there’s a more fundamental question.

Did this exchange actually happen?

A transcript of Ben Westerman’s interview with Helen Marks and “R” has since emerged.

There’s a section which is remarkably similar to the version Westerman gave Panorama — but with two important differences. 

One is that the exchange takes place during the interview.

And the other is that Israel is not mentioned. 

This is the exchange from the transcript.

Helen Marks to “R” : Ok. R, do you want to…?

R: No, I’m just curious cos I haven’t been in the Labour Party for very long and I certainly haven’t been to anything like this informal interview before, erm, so I’m just curious, just, like what branch are you in?

Ben Westerman (BW): I don’t think that’s relevant.

R: Oh, ok.

BW: I hope that’s ok — I’m sorry I just don’t think, I don’t think where I’m from is at all relevant to the investigation…

R: Yeah, I just, I just misunderstood, I thought the investigation bit about me not being a silent witness was…

BW: No, no it is, you’re more than welcome to ask questions, but I reserve the right to not answer them and I feel that’s a, that’s a question about my personal situation which I don’t think is relevant to the situation in Liverpool Riverside.

R: Oh. No, it might not be. Just but, it might be interesting.

BW: I’m, I’m not prepared to discuss my, my address, basically.

R: Mmm.

Despite the Editorial Guidelines requiring that reporting should be “well sourced, based on sound evidence, and corroborated,” John Ware accepted Westerman’s evidence at face value.

He doesn’t seem to have felt the need to check the story.

Helen Marks told Press Gang yesterday that no-one from Panorama contacted her to ask for her side of the story.

Ben Westerman was unavailable for comment. 

Yesterday, we asked John Ware, Panorama and the BBC to comment.

A spokeswoman told us: 

We will not be responding further than our statement which we have previously given you:

The BBC stands by its journalism and we completely reject any accusations of bias or dishonesty.

The Panorama programme explored a topic of undoubted public interest, broadcasting powerful and disturbing testimonies from party members who’d suffered anti-Semitic abuse.”

♦♦♦

FURTHER ARTICLES are in preparation. 

Support this campaign by clicking on the crowdfunded link here

♦♦♦

NOTE
1 Paddy French declares an interest in this issue. A life-long Labour voter, he joined the party after Jeremy Corbyn was elected Leader.
2 Much of this article is based on the work of others including The Canary, Electronic Intifada, Vox Political and Jewish Voice for Labour.
3  This article was amended on 8 December 2019 to include a statement from Jewish Voice for Labour. 

♦♦♦
Published: 2 November 2019
© Press Gang
♦♦♦

NEXT
INDICTMENT
PRESS GANG has asked Ofcom for permission to submit a complaint about the Panorama programme. No reply has yet been received. But in this article we lay out the skeleton argument for why we believe this edition of Panorama breached Ofcom’s broadcasting code over and over again.
(This was published on 8 December 2019, read it here.)

♦♦♦

CORRECTIONS  Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

RIGHT OF REPLY  If you have been mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let us have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory we’ll add it to the article.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: