A BBC program probing anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has sparked a furious response from the party, which denounced the report and its producer, who directed an earlier program smearing party leader Jeremy Corbyn, as biased.
An episode of BBC Panorama entitled ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic?’ purported to get to the bottom of what the BBC has melodramatically described as “the anti-Semitism crisis gripping Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.” Based largely on information provided by eight former party members, the show has provoked a wave of indignation from Labour, which accused the BBC of violating its own “obligations of fairness, balance and political impartiality.”
The Party slammed the BBC’s choice of producer, John Ware, as “unsuitable,” noting that Ware’s “record of public political hostility to Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership of the Labour Party, as well as a series of controversial articles and programs on the Muslim community, means he cannot be regarded as fair or even-handed on British politics.” A 2015 Panorama episode Ware produced on Corbyn made false claims and was widely denounced as a “hatchet job,” while a 2005 program Ware produced about British Muslims was slammed as “McCarthyite” and “disgusting” – the latter by a former Panorama journalist.
“The Panorama program and the BBC have engaged in deliberate and malicious representations designed to mislead the public,” the party said in response to allegations made in the program that senior Party members – particularly general secretary Jennie Formby and Jeremy Corbyn’s communications director Seumas Milne – interfered with anti-Semitism whistleblowers.
In one of those cases, Labour claims the program deceptively edited the content of an email sent by Milne to change the meaning. When Labour’s press team issued a correction, it was ignored and the false content was repeated by the BBC’s News at Ten program. Elsewhere, the Party accused the BBC of serving up quotes from leaked emails out of context.
Former Party members who appeared on the show, including Kat Buckingham and Louise Withers Green, described the antisemitism problem as “massive” and “real”, adding that some “horrendous things” prompted them to speak up despite signing a non-disclosure agreement.
Labour dismissed the narrative as “deliberate misrepresentations” based on the words of “disaffected, politically hostile former employees.” Many of those interviewed by Ware “have always opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, worked to actively undermine it, and have both personal and political axes to grind,” the Party stated, questioning their credibility as sources in such an investigation. Ware, the Party claims, has “clearly and publicly already made up their mind on the issue of Labour and anti-Semitism.”
In fact, Labour took an issue with the episode even before it was aired, sending an official complaint letter to the BBC that suggested the documentary was a “political intervention,” asking why its focus was limited to anti-Semitism in Labour when polling by multiple groups has shown that both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are markedly more common in the Conservative Party.
The BBC dismissed the complaints, stating that Labour was criticizing “a program they have not seen” and maintaining that it “adheres to the BBC’s editorial guidelines.” It has not commented on the latest statements by Labour yet.
Meanwhile, the episode has polarized viewers on social media. Some called it “an absolute hatchet piece” on the party, calling on the BBC to “hang their heads in shame” after “destroying their own credibility.” “Panorama literally lied tonight,” another viewer complained, condemning Ware for eschewing facts that “got in the way of his smear campaign.”
Others, however, described the program as “damning” for Labour, calling the former Party members who spoke on film “heroes.”