'If Labour wants a fight, bring it on,' says Panorama's John Ware

Exclusive: Journalist says party's bid to discredit documentary on its handling of antisemitism is 'a very big mistake'


John Ware, the veteran reporter behind the BBC’s Panorama programme on Labour’s handling of antisemitism, has said that if the party leadership wants “a fight” over the documentary then “by all means bring it on, because I am ready”.

Mr Ware was responding to formal complaints made to the BBC by the Labour Party — and to Jeremy Corbyn, who has said there were “many, many, inaccuracies” in the documentary and that it had adopted a “predetermined position” before it was aired.

The investigation revealed that the Labour leader’s office intervened in antisemitism cases and that over-worked party staff had been left demoralised by the leadership’s failure to tackle anti-Jewish racism.

Former Labour staffers Sam Matthews and Louise Withers Green were among those who broke non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to take part in the documentary. Mr Matthews revealed that he had been left suicidal by his time as head of disputes.

Labour responded to the claims by accusing the whistleblowers of being “disaffected former officials... who have always opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, worked to actively to undermine it and have both personal and political axes to grind. This throws into doubt their credibility as sources.”

The pair have now instructed media lawyer Mark Lewis to pursue what he described as “very serious libels”.

Speaking to the JC, Mr Ware said the party’s decision to attack the programme even before it was broadcast was “breathtaking”.

Both in advance of its screening and afterwards, supporters of Mr Corbyn across social media launched vitriolic personal attacks on Mr Ware. He was accused of being “the BBC’s Islamophobe in chief” and a “far-right journalist”.

In its complaint, Labour said his reporting was “seriously inaccurate” and alleged he had selectively used and edited quotes to change their meanings.

Mr Ware said Labour had responded with “Stalinist levels of paranoia. I expected them to be very cross and criticise the programme but they went beyond that. The degree of paranoia and personal invective that has become part of their briefing on this is staggering.

“That any political party, let alone one that aspires to be in government, would accuse our eight whistleblowers of being ‘disaffected’ as opposed to being against racism is really pushing it.”

Mr Ware said that the only editing of quotes was what a “sub would do on a newspaper in order to make things clear. Labour don’t seem to understand how this process works.

This is a team effort, this isn’t just John Ware — it is just about the most experienced programme team that Panorama can muster.

“It is the editor, the producer, the assistant producer, it is the editorial compliance people, it is the legal people — everyone had access to everything in the programme. This is the BBC.

“The notion we would collectively or individually invent quotes is extraordinary.”

Mr Ware said that the most editing that he and his team did was correct the “odd spelling mistake or sometimes change ‘he’ for ‘Jeremy Corbyn’.

At no stage would we ever have dreamt of distorting the meaning, to the extent that when we made any tweaks at all they were all about clarifying Labour’s position.”

He said the allegations made by the party about his and the BBC’s ethics “could not get any more serious than that. It is a very big mistake and stupid thing to do.”

One specific complaint was that the BBC edited an email sent on March 10 last year by Mr Corbyn’s adviser Seumas Milne following a decision to suspend a Jewish member of the Labour party, Glyn Secker.

Labour complained the programme “misrepresented” an internal email sent by Mr Milne, in which he said: “something’s going wrong, and we’re muddling up political disputes with racism... I think going forward we need to review where and how we’re drawing the line.”

Labour said in its response that this email was in fact about “caution being exercised when taking action against Jewish people accused of antisemitism” and that because the BBC omitted Mr Milne’s earlier words — “if we’re more than very occasionally using disciplinary action against Jewish members for antisemitism” — the meaning was deliberately changed.

Mr Ware defended the decision to show only part of the email for clarity: “When you unpack what we left out of that email and the events that led up to it, the picture that emerges is much darker than our summary goes.”

Others have pointed out that the full email shows Mr Milne suggesting that Jews should rarely be suspended for antisemitism — in other words, attempting to protect members of the Corbynite group Jewish Voice for Labour such as Mr Secker.

“Why they quoted that in their defence I don’t know. Their analysis of that email is so disingenuous it beggars’ belief,” Mr Ware said, describing the complaint as “utterly preposterous. Never mind me, why would the legal department at the BBC sanction deliberately misleading the public?”

Mr Ware was shocked that Labour’s complaint had “suggested that some of the whistleblowers had quite deliberately generated emails requesting advice from Mr Corbyn’s office on antisemitism cases so they could later smear him.”

He added: “That level of Stalinist paranoia is breathtaking.

“It is like dealing with a cult. They ascribe the darkest of motives to both us and the whistleblowers and that is just really stupid.”

Mr Ware said that Labour had briefed journalists that the BBC was “scrambling around to cover their backs in the wake of the programme” — an allegation that was completely false.

He continued: “In fact the total opposite has been the case. Rarely have I seen the BBC’s high command so relaxed in the face of such an onslaught from any political party — because they know we got it right.”

Mr Ware said he had lost “respect” for Jon Lansman, the Momentum founder, who was among those to attack Mr Ware personally.

“Momentum issued a pretty slyly edited video about me before the programme had aired and I noticed after the programme one of the criticisms Jon Lansman made was that our quotes flouted basic journalistic rules.

“Well, that video his group produced didn’t even ask me about the allegations they were making. It included statements that were untrue, which is seriously flouting basic journalistic rules.

"No one came to me and asked me about the things the alleged in the video.

“My respect for Lansman has gone through the floor. He postures as this judicious and wise individual, who has a scrupulous regard for fairness and accuracy. He is just a player at the end of the day.”

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