The BBC is set to reject Labour’s complaint about a Panorama documentary which alleged widespread antisemitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s party, according to individuals with knowledge of the case.
The decision is likely to set up a clash between the public broadcaster and the opposition that will run during the forthcoming general election campaign.
The episode of Panorama entitled “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?” was broadcast this summer and made a number of claims about Labour’s attitude towards the issue in recent years. It interviewed party activists and officials who said they were undermined by senior Labour bosses in their attempts to tackle antisemitism.
Labour strongly rejected the programme’s conclusions, which included suggestions from a group of whistleblowers including the former general secretary Iain McNicol that Jeremy Corbyn’s director of strategy and communications, Seumas Milne, and the current general secretary, Jennie Formby, interfered with investigations into antisemitism.
However, the Guardian has learned that the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit, the top level of the broadcaster’s internal complaints process, has finished investigating the concerns raised by Labour and decided to back the programme-makers. A BBC spokesperson declined to comment.
Labour now has the option to take the complaint to the media regulator Ofcom, which could take even longer to make a final ruling on the programme’s accuracy and other potential breaches of the broadcasting code.
This means the fallout from the programme is likely to continue throughout the general election campaign, with political parties already increasingly willing to publicly criticise broadcasters for alleged bias.
Labour’s 28-page complaint to the BBC said the episode of Panorama did not meet the broadcaster’s standards because of “the tendentious and politically slanted script; the bias in the selection of interviewees; and the failure to identify the political affiliations or records of interviewees in a highly controversial, sensitive and contested subject produced a programme that was a one-sided authored polemic”.
The party particularly criticised the decision to allow the veteran documentary maker John Ware to make the programme, on the basis that he has a “record of public political hostility to Jeremy Corbyn, his politics and leadership of the Labour party”.
The BBC has always stood behind the show, saying it dealt with a topic of “undoubted public interest” and featured “powerful and disturbing testimonies from party members who’d suffered antisemitic abuse”.
Labour’s complaint accepted that the issue of antisemitism in the party and wider society is a subject of legitimate inquiry but reaction to the programme broadly divided along political lines.
At the time of the broadcast, Jon Lansman, the co-founder of the Momentum campaign group and a Jewish supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, called the Panorama programme a “politically motivated documentary into a subject that demands serious and fair discussion”.
The issue of antisemitism continues to affect the party. On Wednesday the Jewish Labour Movement, a socialist society affiliated to Labour, said it will not be campaigning for most of the party’s candidates in the general election, citing a culture of antisemitism under the current party leadership.
The BBC’s decision to reject Labour’s complaint was made by the same internal unit that came under criticism for its handling of the investigation into comments made by the BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty.
In a separate development, Ware recently began libel proceedings against the Labour party over its public criticism of his reputation in public statements issued in advance of the broadcast of the Panorama episode. His lawyer, Mark Lewis, confirmed that Labour is due to reply to Ware’s libel claim within the coming weeks.