Press Gang website editor and former TV producer Paddy French has claimed his criticisms of Panorama’s John Ware, who he dubbed a “rogue journalist”, were “measured, considered and responsible”.
Ware is suing French (pictured) for £50,000 over a December 2019 report published on the Press Gang and Cold Type websites criticising his Panorama programme looking into the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour party.
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The report, which Ware claimed damaged his professional reputation as a journalist, was headlined: “Political storm rages over BBC’s ‘rogue’ journalism.”
A High Court judge ruled earlier this year that French’s article was “clearly defamatory” as it 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”.
Although he was “disappointed” by the ruling French has accepted in his defence, now filed by Matrix Chambers, that this meaning is true.
He is arguing his report was both true and in the public interest. In the earlier judgment, Mr Justice Saini acknowledged it was a “work of political journalism on an important issue of public interest” but that 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…”
French said he “reasonably believed” the Panorama programme was “one-sided and strongly advocated the position that the Labour Party was institutionally anti-Semitic” and added that the tone of his article was “measured, considered and responsible”.
His defence states that it was “within the wide ambit of [his] editorial discretion as a journalist dealing with an issue of political controversy and substantial public interest” to present the allegations of bias as he did.
The question of whether the BBC and Ware had “fairly and impartially reported” on the issue of anti-Semitism within Labour when an election was imminent was “one of the greatest public importance”, it said.
“The position of the Labour Party in general and Jeremy Corbyn in particular on this issue had been consistently misrepresented in the media and it was in the public interest for contrary views to be aired to enable the public to make informed decisions in the forthcoming general election.”
In his truth defence French claimed Ware’s “actions and omissions” constituted “rogue journalism” because he had “deliberately suppressed and concealed facts which were contrary to the thesis which he wished to present.
“In writing and presenting a biased programme making knowingly false statements about the incidence and nature of anti-Semitism in the Corbyn-led Labour Party the claimant was guilty of ‘dirty tricks’,” he said.
For example French claimed Ware had omitted to tell viewers that ten Labour members who spoke in the programme were members of the Jewish Labour Movement, which had been critical of Corbyn’s handling of anti-Semitism.
French also claimed it could be inferred that the programme featured no Jewish Labour members who supported Corbyn or opposed the view the party was anti-Semitic “because they contradicted the predetermined thesis…”
Other claims include that Ware failed to include accurate complaint statistics because they did not support his personal view, that he deliberately only used experts who supported the contention that anti-Semitism was rife in the party, and that he presented a “highly critical” view of the Chakrabarti report examining the issue despite it receiving support from some Jewish members.
French pointed to articles Ware had previously written in Standpoint magazine and the Jewish Chronicle, in which he criticised the party’s definition of anti-Semitism and accused Corbyn of using a “classic antisemitic trope”.
“It is to be inferred that the claimant believed that Jeremy Corbyn was a dangerous extremist and anti-Semite and believed that the election of a Labour Government led by Jeremy Corbyn would be seriously damaging and detrimental to the United Kingdom in general and its Jewish citizens in particular,” the defence said.
As well as being published online, French’s report made up a 16-page pamphlet which was sent directly to at least 100 senior managers and journalists at the BBC plus senior employees of Channel 4 News, Sky News, LBC, the Guardian, the Times, the Sunday Times and the Sun on Sunday.
Ware had also claimed it was handed out to BBC staff outside Broadcasting House but French, who has crowdfunded more than £25,000 of a £100,000 target for his defence, has denied this. He also argued his report was not widely published and received only “very limited publicity”.
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.
Picture: Tricia Scott