Breaking comment

Breaking: French and Press Gang withdraw from Ware libel case

Journalism analysis outfit labelled BBC journalist ‘rogue’, but has withdrawn defence

Press Gang‘s Paddy French has withdrawn from defending the libel case brought against him by BBC journalist and Jewish Chronicle supporter (reportedly part-owner) John Ware. In a statement released this morning, French laid out the progress made in the case – pointing out that Ware’s legal team was not contesting Press Gang’s ‘charge sheet’ that French had laid out against Ware’s BBC documentary on antisemitism in the Labour party – and his reasons for the withdrawal, specifically a judge’s ruling that he could not present evidence of the one-sidedness of the Panorama programme at trial:

IN DECEMBER 2019 I published the Press Gang pamphlet “Is The BBC Anti-Labour? Panorama’s Biased Anti-Semitism Reporting — A Case To Answer”. 

This was a detailed critique of the Panorama programme “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?” based on a “charge sheet” that found the broadcast had breached key BBC Editorial Guidelines. 

Six months later John Ware began defamation proceedings against the pamphlet.

At that point I believed the case was an opportunity for a forensic examination of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party while Jeremy Corbyn was leader. 

However, John Ware then withdrew his complaint against the “charge sheet” element and concentrated on an article included at the end of the pamphlet. 

And, in February 2021, Mr Justice Saini ruled that this article meant that John Ware was a rogue journalist who engaged in “dirty tricks” by presenting “a biased and knowingly false presentation of the extent and nature of anti-Semitism within the party, deliberately ignoring contrary evidence” in order to harm Labour’s electoral prospects.

This was not my intention — my concern was about the quality of the journalism. I argued that Ware had authored and presented an edition of Panorama that was one-sided and strongly advocated the position that Labour was anti-Semitic. This was, in my opinion, rogue journalism.

But as a result of the court’s ruling I was not permitted to defend the case on this basis and could not present evidence that the broadcast was one-sided.

However, much of the material I had hoped to explore in court has now been published elsewhere.

In April 2020 Labour’s internal report into the workings of the party’s Governance and Legal Unit (GLU) was leaked to Sky News.

This long report supported the thesis set out in the pamphlet.

Sir Keir Starmer, who replaced Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, ordered an independent inquiry into the serious allegations made in the leaked GLU report.

Headed by Martin Forde KC, this report was published in July this year. 

Again, the Forde Report supported the general critique of the pamphlet.

Finally, the revelations of the Al Jazeera series “The Labour Files” in September this year provided further evidence that the Panorama programme was one-sided.

These developments mean that Ware v French has become less and less relevant.  As a result, I have decided to withdraw from the case and will take no further part in the proceedings.

I will now concentrate on producing a full report into the Panorama programme.

This report will include new material that has yet to see the light of day. 

I want to thank all those — including my legal team at Bindmans and barristers Hugh Tomlinson, KC and Darryl Hutcheon — who have supported me in this case over the past two and a half years. 

Paddy French
Editor, Press Gang

A Seumas Milne email presented in the Panorama programme had been selectively edited, giving a different impression of its meaning and omitting to mention that Milne’s opinion – presented as interference in the antisemitism disciplinary process – had in fact been requested by a leading right-wing staffer. The recent Forde Report confirmed that antisemitism allegations were weaponised against the left, while the Al Jazeera ‘Labour Files’ series revealed damning information about the behaviour of figures who appeared as key witnesses in the Panorama programme.

A hearing will now take place without French’s participation, at which the judge will deliver a ruling and decide outcomes.

For Skwawkbox’s analysis of the BBC programme and of John Ware’s background at the time it was broadcast, click here and here.

Skwawkbox was unable to reach Mr Ware for comment.

Update: John Ware has told Skwawkbox that he and the BBC consider Martin Forde’s apparent criticism of Panorama to be itself misleading and a formal letter was sent by the Corporation to him last September explaining why – and that Mr Forde has told the Corporation he cannot provide a substantive reply until after he has reported to the NEC. No date has yet been set for this meeting.

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