A High Court judge has ruled an article dubbing investigative reporter John Ware’s Panorama programme into anti-Semitism in the Labour party “rogue journalism” was “clearly defamatory”.
Ware (pictured) has sued Press Gang website editor Paddy French, seeking £50,000 in damages, over the December 2019 report headlined: “Political storm rages over BBC’s ‘rogue’ journalism”.
The article was published on the Press Gang and Cold Type websites and in a 16-page pamphlet which was sent directly to at least 100 senior managers and journalists at the BBC and handed out to BBC staff outside Broadcasting House.
It was also sent to employees of Channel 4 News, Sky News, LBC, the Guardian, the Times, the Sunday Times and the Sun on Sunday.
The article called the Panorama programme “a piece of rogue journalism that presented just one side of the argument, ignored basic facts and bent the truth to breaking point”.
In a preliminary judgment handed down on Wednesday, Mr Justice Saini found the article carried the meaning that Ware was a “rogue journalist who had engaged in dirty tricks aimed at harming the Labour Party’s chances of winning the General Election by authoring and presenting an edition of Panorama in which he presented a biased and knowingly false presentation of the extent and nature of anti-Semitism within the party, deliberately ignoring contrary evidence”.
Mr Justice Saini said accusing a journalist of behaving in this manner was “clearly defamatory at common law”.
“The specific allegations made in relation to a broadcast journalist such as the claimant are serious matters going to his reputation,” he added.
The judge acknowledged that French’s report was a “work of political journalism on an important issue of public interest”.
But he said French had gone “beyond merely expressing opinions and entered the territory of accusing Mr Ware of deliberate wrongdoing in selectively presenting one side of the story on the national broadcaster (a body with well-known duties of impartiality…”
Lawyers for French had argued that the claims in the article were recognisable as comment, not fact, but the judge rejected this submission.
“Claimed misrepresentation by presenting one side of a story for a particular purpose, and deliberate suppression of an alternative narrative were, in the context of the article, plainly imputations of fact,” he said.
French, himself a retired current affairs producer, has vowed to continue fighting the case at a full trial and is crowdfunding his defence. He has raised more than £24,000 of a £100,000 target.
He said: “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.”
In July last year, Ware received substantial damages and an apology from Labour after the party falsely accused him of inventing quotes, flouting journalistic ethics and knowingly promoting falsehoods in pursuit of a “pre-determined outcome” in the same edition of Panorama.