LABOUR’S LOST OFCOM COMPLAINT

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THE BROADCASTING watchdog Ofcom is “assessing” a new complaint about the July 2019 Panorama programme “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?” 

This admission — prompted by a Press Gang investigation — comes more than a year after the programme was broadcast.

And long after Ofcom’s deadline for making a complaint. 

The Press Gang investigation also confirms, for the first time, that the Labour Party submitted a detailed complaint about the programme to Ofcom in February this year.

This was an appeal against the BBC’s rejection of Labour’s complaint in August 2019.

Ofcom rejected the appeal in May this year.

Ofcom declined to say if the complaint currently being assessed has anything to do with the rejected Labour appeal.

The BBC told Press Gang it is unaware of any new complaint about the Panorama programme.

Labour declined to comment.

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AFTER THE Panorama broadcast in July 2019, Labour prepared a detailed complaint about the programme.

This 16 page document — a copy of which Press Gang has seen — was submitted to the BBC’s Head of Editorial Complaints in August.

The BBC’s response was a 35 page letter written by a BBC News Editorial Adviser and dated 2 September 2019. 

Press Gang has also seen this letter.

The BBC rejected all of Labour’s complaints: “Panorama’s research was robust and extensive”.

Labour had 20 working days to complain against the decision to Ofcom, the BBC’s ultimate regulator. 

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This required Labour to submit its complaint to Ofcom by the end of October 2019.

The Press Gang investigation has learnt that the party did not do so.

At the time, the party’s priority was the imminent general election.

After December’s general election defeat, the party prepared its complaint.

Press Gang understands it was submitted in February this year —  and rejected by Ofcom in May.

Press Gang asked Ofcom to confirm it had received and rejected Labour’s complaint.

Ofcom declined to answer the question but then answered a question we had not asked — telling us it was “assessing” a new complaint against the Panorama programme.

The watchdog declined to say who had made the complaint — or if it was connected to Labour’s rejected complaint. 

Labour’s complaint was the most comprehensive Ofcom received about the Panorama broadcast.

In January the watchdog announced that it had rejected 27 complaints from viewers.

A spokesperson said:

We assessed complaints from viewers who felt that this programme was factually inaccurate and biased.

In our view, the programme was duly impartial.

As well as highly critical personal testimonies, it included the Labour Party’s response throughout, including an interview with the Shadow Communities Secretary.

All of these complaints were considered before the leaking of Labour’s dramatic report into how officials at party HQ in London handled anti-Semitism complaints.

This report was called “The Work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to anti-Semitism, 2014 – 2019”.

On April 10 — six days after Keir Starmer was elected Labour Leader — the result of this inquiry was leaked to Sky News.

The 851 page report blamed party officials for failing to deal with the anti-Semitism issue.

Some of these officials included some of those interviewed in the Panorama “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?” programme.

In the wake of the leak, Labour’s National Executive Committee set up a panel to examine the report’s allegations and how it came to be leaked.

Headed by the QC Martin Forde, it also includes three Labour peers: Baroness Wilcox, Lord Whitty and Baroness Lister.

It is due to report by the end of the year.

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OFCOM IS reluctant to answer questions about the complaint it is now considering. 

Why is it assessing a complaint a year after the Panorama programme went out — and long after both the BBC and Ofcom deadlines had passed?

Ofcom told us:

We have a time limit for receiving BBC complaints based on when the complainant receives their final response from the ECU [the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit]. 

So if there was a delay in a complainant receiving their ECU response, as long as they referred the complaint to Ofcom within 20 working days of receiving it, we will consider the complaint, regardless of whether we have published the outcome of similar complaints and regardless of when the programme was broadcast.

This implies that the complaint currently being assessed has only recently been rejected by the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit.

However, a search of all BBC fortnightly complaints bulletins published this year lists no complaints rejected by the ECU.

Ofcom also declined to explain why it does not include Labour’s rejected complaint in its statistics.

Ofcom’s press office told us it had rejected 27 cases by January this year. 

With the case currently being assessed, the total comes to 28.

If Labour’s complaint was submitted in February and rejected in May, it cannot be included in Ofcom’s total of 28.

The mystery deepens when Ofcom’s own records are examined.

The watchdog’s fortnightly complaints bulletins show that a complaint against the Panorama anti-Semitism programme was rejected in May and another in July this year.

Neither of these rejections is included in Ofcom’s total number of complaints.

Ofcom declined to clear up the confusion.

The BBC’s Communications Manager, Philly Spur, told us: 

“The ECU [BBC Executive Complaints Unit] rejected all complaints and Ofcom didn’t find grounds to investigate.”

“We are not aware of anything further.”

Labour did not reply to our questions.

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ON JULY 22 Labour settled a libel action brought by John Ware, the reporter who presented the Panorama programme, and seven former Labour Party officials who appeared in the broadcast.

Labour had criticised Ware and the former staffers. 

The party agreed to pay undisclosed damages and costs. 

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JOHN WARE
The reporter who presented the controversial Panorama programme “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?” is taking legal action against some of his critics — including Press Gang editor Paddy French.
Photo: BBC

Following the settlement, Jeremy Corbyn said:

The party’s decision to apologise today and make substantial payments to former staff who sued the party in relation to last year’s Panorama programme is a political decision, not a legal one.

Our legal advice was that the party had a strong defence …

The decision to settle these claims in this way is disappointing, and risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle antisemitism in the Labour Party in recent years.

The same day Mark Lewis, the lawyer who represents John Ware, said his client had instructed him “to pursue claims”. 

At the time this article went to press, no writ had been issued against Jeremy Corbyn.                                                                                                                                                                                                

Jeremy Corbyn High Court ruling

JEREMY CORBYN
THE FORMER Labour Leader is facing a £100,000 libel action over allegedly “false and defamatory” remarks he made about the blogger and Jewish activist Richard Millett on the Andrew Marr Show in September 2018. Corbyn is defending the action which will now go to trial. There has been no crowdfunding for this case.
Photo: PA

A Labour Party member and Corbyn supporter called Carole Morgan then launched an appeal called “Jeremy’s Legal Fund” to raise funds to fight any action.

The appeal has to date raised more than £330,000 from more than 17,000 donors.

Carole Morgan is in the process of converting the appeal into a trust fund.

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LABOUR’S DECISION to settle with Ware means that the key legal action involving the Panorama programme is the one involving Press Gang editor Paddy French.

In December 2019 Press Gang published a 16 page pamphlet which criticised the Panorama programme.

The report — “Is The BBC Anti-Labour?” — was written by French.

In July this year Ware’s lawyer, Mark Lewis, issued a writ asking for £50,000 in damages.

Press Gang is contesting the action and has instructed the London libel specialists Bindmans to represent French.

A fighting fund has been launched to help pay legal costs — to date this has raised more than £20,000 from 800 supporters.

The target is £100,000.

The link is: 

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/fightingfund

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A preliminary hearing is likely to take place in October or November.  

After Ware issued his writ against French, he also launched proceedings against the campaign group Jewish Voice for Labour. 

Ware is claiming a total of £80,000 in damages from the organisation and two of its officials.

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Published: 2 September 2020
© Press Gang
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CORRECTIONS  Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

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