John Ware

The Corbynites have lied with impunity - now they face the legal consequences

John Ware explains why he sued the Labour Party - and why his case is merely the first of several against alt-Left sites and individuals who lie

July 22, 2020 08:34

A year ago, the Labour Party declared all-out war on the BBC. Why? 

I was the reporter on a Panorama programme in which seven former Labour staffers blew the whistle about antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party. They explained how they felt a growing factionalism had created a safe space for antisemitic views inside the party.

Labour responded by accusing me of having flouted journalistic ethics. I had, Labour alleged, knowingly promoted falsehoods and invented quotes. I had misrepresented and fabricated facts. 

It was, the party claimed, all part of my “deliberate and malicious” attempt “to mislead the public.”  

It didn’t stop there. The party accused the whistle-blowers of being motivated by “disaffection” with Corbyn and the Labour Left; they had “personal and political axes to grind” as opposed to actually believing what they told me about the toxic climate they said had enveloped the party under the Leader’s office.

These were remarkably stupid things for the official opposition to say in public. It is the BBC’s job to subject any political party to careful scrutiny - but it is particularly important for the BBC to examine the actions of the party that aspires to be the next government.

Most politicians recognise that such criticism is an essential part of a democratic society. How did Labour react? By imputing a malign, dishonest, conspiratorial motive to BBC programme makers.

Labour claimed that I knew that Corbyn’s office was committed to dealing with antisemitism and was getting the job done. The party claimed that I maliciously tried to convince the public of the opposite of what I knew to be a simple truth.

You don’t need much experience of television to know that the BBC’s editorial processes simply don’t allow for such mammoth corruption of the editorial process, especially a programme that examines such an incendiary subject as the relationship between the leader of the Opposition and antisemitism. Every line of my commentary was trawled over by the editor, lawyers and the BBC’s editorial compliance panjandrums. The whistle-blowers were also extensively cross examined.

But playing the man and not the ball is now the weapon of choice for killing off dispassionate debate.

In my case, Labour’s defamatory blast triggered a year-long fusillade of falsehoods from a stream of Left wing bloggers, media “activists”, Labour’s “people powered” Momentum faction, and alt-Left outlets – all of whom share a conviction that the mainstream media is fundamentally dishonest. 

There is, of course, dishonesty in the mainstream media. But whatever their faults, journalists working in the mainstream generally respect basic standards of accuracy and fairness. The ‘alternative media’ – both Left & Right – do not.

When you’re on the receiving end of unrelenting invective (and many have had it much worse than me) there comes a point when you have a choice: do you turn a cheek and continue to let these people mouth off lies that impact on your reputation and your livelihood? Or, do you do something about it? 

I chose the latter course. As a result, today, in open court the Labour Party has “unreservedly withdrawn” the allegations against me and the whistle-blowers, paid “substantial damages” and expressed their “profound regret.”

There’s an unwritten code that says we journalists should never sue because however offensive or defamatory criticism of our journalism may be, we hold free speech sacrosanct. 

It was a rule with which for decades I agreed. I no longer do. 

With identity politics and social media dominating public discourse, Journalism has changed. On much of the internet, basic standards of accuracy and fairness have disappeared. I feel passionately that we need to try and hold internet media and political “activists” to account when they fail to apply the same standards they demand from the mainstream media.

That is why my proceedings against Labour are only the first of several I have begun against alternative media outlets and individuals. I make no apology for this and fully intend to prove my claims in court. To this day, pro-Corbyn conspiracy theorists persist in repeating their falsehoods. They are convinced of the righteousness of their efforts to destroy the BBC’s Panorama for giving a voice to the people who felt they had been victims of antisemitism and to the party officials who felt they had been frustrated in their attempts to deal with this in a climate that had become increasingly hostile to them since Corbyn won his leadership election for the 2nd time in 2016. 

The zealotry of this mission has led some of these activists to think that unlike a network broadcaster or a newspaper, using a blog or twitter to brand someone a “rogue journalist” or a “liar” or fundamentally dishonest is somehow OK. Reasoned argument is OK. But attributing a malign motive out of frustration and anger is not OK and I hope the success of my proceedings against them will encourage them to think before they blog.

Some of the wildest criticism against Panorama came from the then Chair of Momentum Jon Lansman who accused me and my BBC colleagues of having “flouted basic journalistic standards from beginning to end.”

Let’s see how Mr Lansman’s own “journalistic standards” measure up. On the morning of transmission, Momentum disseminated a video which said that a 2015 Panorama I had made about Corbyn “ made claims that were later disproven” and also that  the BBC “were forced to pay damages and issue a public apology” over another Panorama investigation in 2006, this time into the London based charity Interpal.

In the latter case, Momentum quoted the assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Miqdaad Versi, referring to my “appalling journalism.” This was immediately adopted by several pro-Corbyn media outlets as well as a publicised letter from Momentum to the BBC Director General Lord Hall. 

I sent a polite text to Mr Lansman to say that none of Momentum’s claims were true and that had I been offered a right of reply I would have explained why.  Mr Corbyn never pressed ahead with his 2015 complaint because in our response, the BBC had shown how disingenuous his complaint was.

As for the “damages” for which Momentum blamed me, they had nothing  to do with my “appalling journalism” on Interpal;  they were entirely related to the way a picture had been edited which unintentionally captured the face of a third party at an Interpal dinner, but who did not work for Interpal. 

Nor had the BBC had to “apologise” for my journalism, either then or at any time in the 26 years I was with the 

No-one from Momentum had approached me before committing this nonsense to video. I told Mr Lansman I had no objection to criticism of my programmes provided that criticism was not based on the false and misleading presentation of facts” and asked him to re-edit the video. He ignored my request, the video remains available on the internet today.

Imagine the explosion had the BBC - about to accuse a senior Labour activist like Mr Lansman of wrongdoing - not him offered a right of reply, or refused to include his reply when he’d asked to be given that right? Rightly, there would be hell to pay, not just within the BBC but also from the broadcast regulator Ofcom.  

As for the perils of defamation, Mr Lansman seems to have been clueless. In a tweet before transmission, he opined that the whistle-blowers may have “deliberately resisted” measures to combat racism and moreover cynically delayed investigating antisemitic cases in order to “undermine Jeremy’s leadership. 

They have no credibility on this subject.”
He even suggested that  senior Labour staffers had engaged in a long term plot to undermine Corbyn by deliberately consulting his office by email on antisemitism cases in order to establish a documentary chain that could later be used to smear Corbyn by alleging that his office had interfered in complaints.

This magnificent conspiracy theory has been adopted by the recently leaked Momentum-authored report which seeks to blame Sam Matthews and the other Panorama whistle-blowers for the antisemitism crisis whilst crediting the officials who replaced them - they were appointed by Corbyn’s Secretary General Jennie Formby - for successfully getting a grip on the crisis.

This theory appears to have been based on the following unsupported hypothesis:
“We do not know why Matthews did this, we have not asked him, nor have we asked any other witness. So we cannot say for (anything like) certain but maybe he was conspiring to do something calculating that when subsequently investigated it would look bad on those people he had emailed – assuming, that is, that the people he emailed responded in a certain way”

This is from the “if-the-following-five-things-happen-then-we-might-be-right” school of conspiracy journalism. Those who bought into the theory seem to have had no awareness of just how ridiculous, reckless and defamatory this degree of speculation is. There is not the remotest chance of any such idea getting past a broadcaster or mainstream newspaper lawyer. And yet it’s there in the leaked Momentum report in several places with the status of an official Labour Party document.

The only smidgeon of truth in this pile of rubbish is that from mid-March 2018, Matthews and the assistant General Secretary Emilie Oldknow did refer antisemitism cases to Corbyn’s office for approval. But this had nothing to do with trying to discredit him. Rather, they had wearied of trying to second guess both Corbyn’s office and hostile NEC members on precisely where the bar lay on anti-Semitism, most especially its more contemporary mutation adopted by sections of the Left  where anti-Zionism had increasingly morphed into antisemitism.

It’s an example of why I’ve referred to the “Soviet levels of paranoia” within parts of the Corbyn faction. 

Like the Labour Party, Mr Lansman has also had to apologise to the whistle-blowers - but he’s got off very lightly. Although Mr Lansman leads a comfortable life, I understand the party paid his legal costs. 

The witless bias spewed out after transmission by Mr Lansman, Momentum  and the Labour Party has become ingrained in the alt-left Twittersphere; it has libelled the whistle-blowers as a bunch of calculating  plotters, and me as an Islamophobe; a supporter of the far right; a thoroughly dishonest journalist who’s been disciplined by the BBC who’ve also had to pay out damages for my Islamophobic journalism. 

More recently, an “investigative website that exposes rogue  journalists” in all seriousness asked if I had used “what appears to be a woman of British Muslim-heritage to voice” the Labour Party’s 16 written responses in the programme in order to “give the impression that Labour is more sympathetic to Muslims than Jews.” I don’t know what a “British Muslim heritage voice” sounds like, and I don’t recall ever thinking there was something distinct or noticeable about her accent; I didn’t chose her (she came from a voice over agency) and it never occurred to me to ask about her faith anyway. 

The pro-Corbyn alt-Left outlets, notably Skwawkbox and The Canary, have also piled in with multiple attempts to discredit the programme. Both sites have dismissed antisemitism complaints as a smear concocted to damage Corbyn, silence his support for Palestinians and prevent the success of his socialist project.  This is blatant nonsense: most Jewish members of Labour are strong supporters of Palestinian rights and are highly critical of the right-wing drift of Israeli politics. They just don’t think that the world’s only Jewish state should be “disappeared” or compared to Nazi Germany – an execrable, infantile comparison which The Canary Editor Kerry Anne Mendoza has made.

Both outlets have also defended activists suspended or expelled from the Labour Party for antisemitism. Ms Mendoza has employed writers who have promoted antisemitic views. She says: “The Canary strives to report the news accurately, responsibly and with humanity.” Really? She has branded the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland an “utter prick”  because he (accurately) predicted that by sticking with Corbyn Labour risked a hard Brexit and five more years of Boris Johnson; she has described the Observer’s Nick Cohen as a “rancid hate goblin.” 

But then shock and hype at the expense of truth and context – the very criticism The Canary makes of the mainstream media - was, until recently, the basis of its ruthless “race to the bottom” market-led business model. Until “pressure from political Zionists” caused “our advertising revenue” to be “under fire”, writers were paid on the basis of “clickbait”: how often their articles get clicked. The incentive to hype was high because it generates advertising revenue. 

An investigation by the Jewish charity Community Security Trust found that the largest spikes in online conversation suggesting antisemitism within Labour had been overblown or fabricated had been significantly influenced by articles “from alt-left media sources and partisan websites such as The Canary”

Then there were the more mainstream journalists who should have known better – such as Owen Jones, the Guardian columnist. He wrote that Panorama was “one of the most tawdry pieces of journalism I have ever seen produced by a broadcaster claiming impartiality.”  Yet Jones swallowed whole Labour’s misleading claim that Panorama’s whistle-blowers had “kicked out” a pro-Corbyn supporter for “expressing their love for the (American rock band) Foo Fighters” adding “This is not a joke.” 

I can reveal that the joke is on Jones. A Corbyn supporter whose Facebook included support for Foo Fighters was indeed refused membership – but not because of her support for the band. It was because her twitter account was judged to be grossly Islamophobic.

Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee approved Matthews’ recommendation that she be refused membership. Unfortunately, the letter sent to her mistakenly cited her innocent FB account – not her offensive twitter account. This was not the fault of the “disaffected” Matthews, I am told, but of a clerical error at a Labour office in Newcastle from where suspension letters were dispatched. 

To both Panorama privately and then later to the public, Corbyn’s office cited the Foo Fighters as “evidence” of how the “factionally” motivated Matthews and his colleagues had indiscriminately targeted Corbyn supporters when they were vetting the avalanche of new members who wanted to vote in the 2016 leadership election. That, claimed the Corbynistas, created a backlog of antisemitism cases for which Corbyn had been unfairly blamed.

The trouble is, the Foo Fighters story is not true. So the question is: why did Corbyn’s office include it in their attack on Panorama? After the story first appeared in the Guardian in August 2016, both the then Head of NEC Disputes and Labour’s press office were informed of the facts – so why was the erroneous story repeated three years later? They know the answer. I don’t. 

Today’s legal settlements are unlikely to silence a group of other critics of Panorama, like the media academic Dr Justin Schlosberg, who continues to assert that I actively set out to deceive the audience and tries to discredit the programme as an “assault to democracy” for its supposed lack of impartiality and accuracy.

As journalism seeps into the jungle of the “activist” fringe and further away from the mainstream where it is at least governed by clearly defined codes, there is indeed a cost to democracy. It is broadcasters like the BBC that are trying to hold the line on standards, not the self-appointed “media activists” who make up their own rules and whose self-righteousness leaves them with dangerously little self-doubt.  

If we want fair and truthful journalism to prevail over deceitful propaganda on the internet, we must hold their authors to account. If we continue to let them get away with it, truth will not be the only casualty. Democracy itself will be wounded — perhaps fatally.


July 22, 2020 08:34

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