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By Bishop of Leeds
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No10 Refuses To Say If Jacob Rees-Mogg Will Face Action Over His Attack On A Journalist

3 min read

Downing Street has distanced itself from Jacob Rees-Mogg's comments criticising a journalist, but is still refusing to take further action.

Rees-Mogg  was accused of “smearing and impugning” HuffPost reporter Arj Singh from the despatch box yesterday after describing an article in which he accurately quoted foreign secretary Dominic Raab as "shockingly distorted by low-quality journalism”. Rees-Mogg also accused Singh of being a “fool or a knave”. 

The original article contained leaked audio of Raab telling Foreign Office staff saying he backed doing trade deals with countries who have breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

"I squarely believe we ought to be trading liberally around the world," Raab said.

"If we restrict it to countries with ECHR-level standards of human rights, we're not going to do many trade deals with the growth markets of the future."

The government said the audio had been "deliberately and selectively clipped to distort" the minister’s comments.

Responding to the story in the House of Commons on Thursday, Rees-Mogg told MPs: “It is a cheat that journalists sometimes use of editing text or a recording.

"It is a very cheap level of journalism, and it is not a proper way to behave."

The government has not offered any evidence that Singh "cheated" or edited the tape, an allegation HuffPost strongly refutes.

Jess Brammar, editor-in-chief of HuffPost UK stood by the story's publication. “To use parliamentary privilege to smear a journalist – knowing you can’t be sued for defamation because you are saying it in Parliament – is extremely troubling," she tweeted. 

“We stand by Arj and his journalism. Produce your evidence, Jacob Rees-Mogg, or retract and set the record straight.”On Friday a spokesperson for Boris Johnson sought to distance the government from Rees-Mogg's comments. 

"These are not comments that the prime minister would have made," they said. 

"These comments were made by Jacob Rees-Mogg and I'm confident that he can explain their intended meaning.

"The prime minister is a staunch believer in the value of the free press and the important role journalists play in our democracy."

But the spokesperson declined to say if Johnson would discuss the matter with Rees-Mogg, or if he will be asked to retract his comments.

Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said: “It’s not acceptable to dismiss reporting you don’t like as fake news.

"It’s completely unacceptable to resort to insults and personal smears of journalists simply trying to get on with their job.

“Our elected politicians should be committed to improving the parlous level of public discourse, not further polluting it.

“This behaviour has to stop, the government must get a grip and put its commitments to improving the recognition and value of journalists and journalism into practice.”The fall-out follows the government's launch of a National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists earlier this month, with a key priority to "improve public recognition of the value of journalists”.

Stanistreet added: “It beggars belief that government ministers are smearing and impugning journalists in this way, indulging in outrageous behaviour that demeans them and the offices they hold.

“This same government, including the Prime Minister and other ministers, have committed time and resources to tackling the growing problem of abuse and harassment which is compromising the safety of journalists across the UK.

“Yet here we have colleagues around the cabinet table acting like playground bullies, undermining the work of journalists, bringing their work into disrepute.

"And dishing out insults that are clearly designed to further inflame harassment and abuse online.”

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