Many people in and around the broadcast media have a lot of time for Danny Cohen, who until recently was Director of BBC Television, having worked his way up via Controller of BBC3 and Controller of BBC1. It was on Cohen’s watch that Jeremy Clarkson infamously overstepped the line and got himself dismissed for an act of gross misconduct, which made him a hate figure for several newspapers.
This hatred spilled over into a particularly nasty campaign by those same papers, especially the Mail, against Cohen’s wife Noreena Hertz, who had committed the heinous crime of being appointed Economics Editor of ITV News. But Cohen also buys in to the idea that the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn is somehow soft on anti-Semitism, and this has not served him well at all.
From the opinion poll finding that showed many Labour voters placed Theresa May above Corbyn, he was making logic leaps such as “No surprise here. Millions of Labour viewers voters prefer Teresa May to Jeremy Corbyn”. No, they rated her more highly as a leader. That doesn’t mean they would actually vote for her.
But it was the claim of anti-Semitism, which Corbyn and his inner circle had not adequately confronted, that has tasked Cohen, to the extent that he Tweeted “Corbyn's Labour must stamp out anti-semitism in the party … Labour 'Anti-Semitism' At Oxford” Note the quotation marks: here is an experienced media practitioner who knows he cannot stand up that claim. Labour resolved to tackle those complaints. The report quoted in the link he includes in his Tweet does not back up the claim, either.
Then came the Chakrabarti report, and the author’s peerage, which I discussed yesterday. Cohen was particularly harsh here: “So much for the independence of the inquiry in to Labour anti-Semitism. A peerage follows … Corbyn's Inquiry into anti-semitism in the Labour Party is now fully discredited. Sums up Corbyn's disdain for the Jewish community … The last 24 hours are more evidence of why many British Jews could not vote for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party”. Did he actually read any of that report?
Shami Chakrabarti’s report (read it HERE) makes a series of straightforward recommendations with which no-one should have a problem: this is a case of seriously bad timing, appalling communication and dreadful media management, but it does not show any “disdain”, and nor is there anything in it to “discredit” the party.
Indeed, the groups that were consulted it the report’s preparation include the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Community Security Trust, the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Jewish Museum, Labour Friends of Israel, the Sephardi Community, and the Zionist Federation of Great Britain. Some of those groups have since passed adverse comment on Ms Chakrabarti’s peerage, but had no problem contributing to her report.
Labour’s media own goal does not make the report and its conclusions invalid. There is much there that should reassure and encourage Jewish voices, and indeed those of all ethnic and religious groups. It’s sad that a respected media figure like Danny Cohen feels the need to dismiss it so lightly, rather than look at the whole and rather more complex story behind it.