Anyone who has dealt with the people who put together programmes like the BBC’s Panorama knows that this is, by and large, a group of dedicated and hard-working staff who are committed to good journalism. It is for that reason that Zelo Street passed no comment on the edition of the programme that aired yesterday evening, on the Labour Party and the current controversy on anti-Semitism, prior to it being broadcast.
Many others were not so restrained; this is understandable, given the nature of the issue, the variety of viewpoints, and indeed the desire of some holding those viewpoints to use the issue primarily as a points-scoring exercise. I will confine my observations to just three items of those presented to viewers to illustrate my concerns.
One is the Corporation’s own website news item, which is headlined “Top Labour figures 'interfered' in anti-Semitism disputes”. The need to use quote marks is concerning in itself: this means we are being asked to take one or more personal interpretations as data.
And that is merely confirmed by this passage: “Labour's disputes team is supposed to operate independently from the party's political structures, including the leader's office. But Sam Matthews, the party's former head of disputes, said he interpreted an email sent by Mr Milne - the Labour leader's communications chief - in March 2018, calling for a review into how complaints were handled, as ‘an instruction’”. He interpreted it.
As I suggested, that is concerning. It is highly subjective; moreover, it is a “sample of one”, which, as any good statistician will tell you, is unlikely to be a fruitful way to proceed. And then we come to a most unlikely Two: former Guido Fawkes teaboy Alex Wickham, who has told “BBC press release claims Jennie Formby intervened in Jackie Walker’s case, but it doesn’t say how they intervened... turns out according to Labour, Formby actually asked for the process against Walker to be sped up... not mentioned by Panorama”.
The accepted narrative on Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism accusations is that the Party has not acted swiftly enough, and continues not to do so. Wickham, now at BuzzFeed News, is suggesting this narrative is not borne out by the evidence.
And Three, this singularly disturbing contribution from the Labour Press Team: “#Panorama edited the email sent by Seumas Milne to completely misrepresent it. It stated ‘But if we're more than very occasionally using disciplinary action against Jewish members for antisemitism, something's going wrong, and we're muddling up political disputes with racism.’” Panorama chopped off the part before “something’s going wrong”.
That not only strips the quote of its true context, it also brings back memories of the Murdoch Sun wilfully truncating a Milne quote to suggest he had claimed the attack on Fusilier Lee Rigby “wasn’t terrorism”. What Milne had actually said was “the attack wasn't terrorism in the normal sense of an indiscriminate attack on civilians”.
That last distortion is why I, and many others, are seriously concerned about the Panorama edition broadcast last night. I hope the BBC will address those concerns.
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