Labour goes to war with BBC over Panorama probe into anti-semitism in party

Posted On: 
11th July 2019

Labour has declared war on the BBC after a Panorama investigation accused senior officials close to Jeremy Corbyn of interfering in anti-semitism complaints.

Labour said the Panorama programme was biased against the party.
PA Images

The party said it would be pursuing complaints "at all levels" of the corporation in the wake of the broadcast on Wednesday night.

In the hour-long programme titled 'Is Labour Anti-Semitic?', former members of Labour's disputes team, which investigates complaints against members, claimed their mental health was affected by the attitude of aides in Mr Corbyn's office.

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Sam Matthews, the former head of the team, said he had even contemplated suicide because of the stress he suffered in the job.

Jewish party members also detailed how they had been subjected to anti-semitic abuse at Labour meetings.

In a hard-hitting statement, Labour accused Panorama of bias and of deliberately misrepresenting evidence in an attempt to smear the party.

A spokesperson said: "The Panorama programme was not a fair or balanced investigation. It was a seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided polemic, which breached basic journalistic standards, invented quotes and edited emails to change their meaning. It was an overtly biased intervention by the BBC in party political controversy.

"An honest investigation into antisemitism in Labour and wider society is in the public interest. The Panorama team instead pre-determined an answer to the question posed by the programme’s title."

They added: "We complained in advance to the BBC over the way the programme was put together and its choice of a presenter who has expressed overt personal and political hostility to Jeremy Corbyn’s politics. We will be pursuing complaints at every level.

"The Labour party will fully investigate any complaints concerning the antisemitic incidents reported by party members in interviews in the programme.

"Labour stands in solidarity with Jewish people and is fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and its organisations.

"Despite claims made in the programme, Labour is taking decisive action against anti-semitism. Since Jennie Formby became general secretary the rate at which anti-semitism cases have been dealt with has increased more than four-fold.

"We will build on the improvements to our procedures made under Jennie Formby, and continue to act against this repugnant form of racism."

But in a tweet immediately after the programme was broadcast, Labour deputy leader Tom Watson hit out at the party's response.

He said: "I am shocked, chilled and appalled by what I’ve just seen on Panorama.

"Hearing the testimony of party members and former staff was harrowing. They are not "disaffected”, they have been incredibly brave. Very serious questions now have to be answered."

Nick Lowles, chief executive of anti-racism campaign group HOPE Not Hate, said the Panorama programme was "depressing and gut-wrenching".

He said: "It showed interference in what is supposed to be an independent process. It showed the downplaying of serious allegations. It showed that an appalling lack of understanding of the hurt, and fear, felt by Jewish party members and the wider Jewish community

"Individual party members and staff have been left badly affected by the repeated failure to deal with this growing crisis.

"I watched the programme with a mix of anger and sadness. Too many people have confused loyalty to a project and a person with loyalty to enduring values."