Judge rules ‘rogue journalism’ attack on Panorama journalist was 'clearly defamatory'

Justice Saini handed down his judgement of preliminary issues involved in John Ware's libel claim against Press Gang editor Paddy French


A High Court judge has ruled that a lengthy article published on the Press Gang  website which suggested the journalist John Ware had engaged in a “a piece of rogue journalism” when he made the BBC Panorama documentary on Labour’s antisemitism crisis was “clearly defamatory at common law”.

In a judgment handed down on Wednesday, Justice Saini said the specific allegations, made in a 16-page pamphlet published by the website editor Paddy French, were “serious matters going to his reputation.”

In the trial of the preliminary issues involved in Mr Ware’s libel claim, Justice Sain also said he agreed with the BBC journalist’s  submission “that readers did not conclude that he was a rogue journalist because he produced a one-sided television programme, they concluded that he was a rogue journalist because that is what the article told them he was.”

Lawyers for Mr French argued that the statements in his article should be recognisable as comment rather than as matters of fact.

But the judge noted that “the accusation of ‘rogue journalism’ is in any event accepted by Mr French as being defamatory.”

Hugh Tomlinson QC, representing Mr French, claimed  the text of the article, which was published in December 2019,  set out inferences, criticisms and observations about the BBC Panorama aired in July that year rather than factual contentions.

But the judge ruled on Wednesday: “I reject that submission. In my judgment, the allegations conveyed statements of fact and not opinion.”

Mr French has crowdfunded money to pay for his defence. His appeal for cash has been promoted by some of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s most outspoken supporters, including the media activist Justin Schlosberg.

Responding to the judgment, Mr Ware told the JC: “It’s satisfying that the court accepted all my arguments that this was a defamatory factual allegation against me and not merely an expression of a different opinion by a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, as Paddy French and his supporters sought to argue.

“This has been the latest in several hopelessly failed attempts to censure my Panorama - from Justin Schlosberg’s separate failed complaint to OfCom, his failed court case, and now Paddy French’s attempt to attack my integrity as a journalist.

“At the request of Mr French and Justin Schlosberg, their respective supporters have now donated a total of over £50,000 to fight me- for no purpose, but I can’t stop them wasting other people’ money if they want to.”

In a statement on his website, Mr French stated:“I am disappointed by the decision.

“However, I remain resolutely committed to defending this action.

"My legal team believe I have a strong defence and the formal documents will be served within the next few months .”

His Press Gang story, headlined “Political storm rages over BBC’s ‘rogue’ journalism”, appeared on the outlet’s website and in the free online magazine Cold Type. The pamphlet was sent directly to at least 100 senior BBC managers and handed out to staff members outside Broadcasting House.

It was  also sent to senior and influential figures at Channel 4 News, Sky News, LBC, The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times and the Sun on Sunday.

Suing for libel, Mr Ware has asked for £50,000 in damages, saying the allegations were “inherently serious” and struck “huge upset and damage” to his professional reputation as a  journalist.

The particulars of the case, filed in the High Court last October, stated that Mr Ware believed Mr French’s coverage carried the meaning that he is a “rogue journalist who had engaged in dirty tricks by deliberately setting out to sabotage the Labour party’s chances of winning the general election by producing an edition of Panorama in which he dishonestly presented a biased and false portrayal of the case against the Labour Party for antisemitism”.

Mr Ware is also suing Jewish Voice for Labour and two of its officers. The group’s website reproduced the introduction to the Press Gang report and linked to an online copy of the pamphlet.

Last July Mr Ware received damages and an apology after the Labour Party falsely accused him of inventing quotes, flouting journalistic ethics and knowingly promoting falsehoods in pursuit of a “pre-determined outcome” over the same edition of Panorama.

Labour also apologised and agreed to pay damages to seven whistleblowers who appeared in the programme.

Mark Lewis, from Patron Law, who is representing Mr Ware, told the JC on Wednesday that “although the case is not over the judge has accepted our submissions that these were factual allegations and not just opinions.”




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