London party

Panorama reporter receives apology for defamatory comments on radio

A journalist behind a BBC Panorama investigation into the Labor Party’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations has received an apology from a group of Jewish members for defamatory comments made following its broadcast.

Journalist John Ware has settled a defamation claim he brought against Jewish Voice for Labor (JVL), its website editor Richard Kuper and media manager Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, the High Court heard on Tuesday.

The legal action followed the July 10, 2019 broadcast of a BBC Panorama program titled: Is Labor Anti-Semitic? – which Ms Wimborne-Idrissi was asked about during her appearance on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show the following day.

During the broadcast, she falsely commented about Mr Ware: “The journalist who did this so-called investigation has a terrible record of Islamophobia, far-right politics, he has been sanctioned – the BBC had to apologise.”

In a ruling in August last year, Judge Steyn found the words to be defamatory, as was a Facebook post by Ms Wimborne-Idrissi that appeared on JVL’s website.

At Tuesday’s hearing, the court heard a statement on behalf of Ms Wimborne-Idrissi from lawyer Alexandra Cohen.

“I accept the court’s judgment that my comments about John Ware in a live radio broadcast on the Jeremy Vine show were defamatory,” Ms Wimborne-Idrissi’s statement said.

“I should not have claimed that the BBC had taken action against Mr Ware in relation to allegations that he engaged in Islamophobia and the far right and/or racist politics, nor that this was somehow reflected in his journalistic work.

“I accept that these allegations are false. JVL and I unreservedly apologized to Mr. Ware and explained that I spoke the way I did because I was so angry with the content of the report Is The Work Anti-Semitic, a program for which Mr. Ware was a reporter.

William Bennett KC, for Mr Ware, said: ‘On this basis the plaintiff is content to leave the matter in abeyance.’

In February last year, Mr Ware won the first round of a separate High Court libel battle over allegations that the same Panorama program was ‘a piece of rogue journalism’.

Mr Ware is suing Paddy French, editor of the Press Gang blog, over claims the documentary ‘bent the truth to the breaking point’.

The Panorama program featured interviews with a number of whistleblowers who worked in Labour’s governance and legal unit, which were tasked with investigating allegations of misconduct by party members.

In an article titled Is the BBC anti-work?, Mr French said the show ‘presented only one side of the argument’ and accused Mr Ware of ‘ignoring basic facts’ .

In a preliminary ruling, Judge Saini ruled that the meaning of the article was that Mr Ware “is a rogue journalist who has engaged in dirty tricks aimed at damaging Labor’s chances of winning the general election in writing 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 evidence to the contrary”.

The judge added that “accusing a journalist of behaving in the manner alleged is clearly defamatory”.

Mr French had previously said he was “strongly committed” to defending the legal action, with a full trial of the defamation claim likely to be heard at a later date.

In July 2020 Labor apologized and agreed to pay ‘substantial damages’ to Mr Ware after falsely accusing him of ‘deliberate and malicious statements intended to mislead the public’.

The party had alleged that Mr Ware “invented quotes, flouted journalistic ethics and…knowingly promoted falsehoods” in an attempt to “achieve a predetermined result to the question posed by the Panorama programme”, a court heard .

Mr Ware said in a statement on Tuesday: ‘I am pleased that JVL has finally agreed to apologize for their patently false accusations.

“This will be the second of two full apologies to be presented in open court, stemming from a series of defamatory accusations following the Panorama program on workplace antisemitism under Jeremy Corbyn.

“I accept criticism, of course, but not blatant lies about me, my motives and my professional integrity.”