Panorama presenter wins first round of libel case over ‘rogue journalism’ claims

Sam Tobin, PA

The presenter of a documentary investigating allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has won the first round of a High Court libel battle over claims that the programme was “a piece of rogue journalism”.

John Ware is suing Paddy French, editor of the Press Gang blog, over claims that his BBC Panorama documentary, titled Is Labour Anti-Semitic?, “bent the truth to breaking point”.

The July 2019 broadcast featured interviews with a number of whistleblowers who worked in Labour’s governance and legal unit, who were responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct by party members.

In an article titled Is The BBC Anti-Labour?, Mr French said the programme “presented just one side of the argument” and accused Mr Ware of “ignoring basic facts”.

The article was sent directly to more than 100 senior managers and journalists at the BBC, as well as employees of other media organisations, and was also handed out to BBC staff outside Broadcasting House in December 2019.

At a hearing earlier this month, Mr Ware argued that the article meant he was “a rogue journalist who had engaged in dirty tricks by deliberately setting out to sabotage the Labour Party’s chances of winning the (2019) general election”.

Mr French’s lawyers said the article meant Mr Ware produced a “one-sided” programme which “strongly advocated the position that the Labour Party was anti-Semitic”, and had “engaged in rogue journalism”.

In a preliminary ruling on Wednesday, Mr Justice Saini said he broadly agreed with Mr Ware on the meaning of the article.

The judge found the article meant that Mr Ware “is 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”.

Mr Justice Saini added: “The article goes substantially beyond an accusation of general one-sidedness which one might encounter in political commentary of a journalist’s standpoint on an issue.

“The claimed knowing falsity of what Mr Ware has presented is a feature which stands out.”

He also ruled that Mr French’s allegations were “statements of fact and not opinion”, adding: “Claimed misrepresentation by presenting one side of a story for a particular purpose and deliberate suppression of an alternative narrative were, in the context of the article, plainly imputations of fact.”

After the ruling, Mr Ware said: “It’s satisfying that the court accepted all my arguments that this was a defamatory factual allegation against me and not merely an expression of a different opinion by a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, as Paddy French and his supporters sought to argue.”

In a statement, Mr French said: “I am disappointed by the decision. However, I remain resolutely committed to defending this action.

“My legal team believe I have a strong defence and the formal documents will be served within the next few months.”

A full trial of Mr Ware’s libel claim is likely to be heard at a later date.