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OFCOM on ‘The Lobby’: A wrong decision & a profound disservice to the Jewish Community

By Jonathan Hoffman, London.

Ella Rose filmed in distress on Al Jazeera's The Lobby was not found by OFCOM to be in breach of its code.

Ella Rose filmed in distress on Al Jazeera’s The Lobby was not found by OFCOM to be in breach of its code.

On 9 October OFCOM published its long-awaited decision on complaints about the four-part Al Jazeera series ‘The Lobby’ which was broadcast from 11th-14th January 2017 on Al Jazeera’s English speaking satellite channel.

I was a complainant and here is my own Q+A on the decision:

Q: What is the fatal flaw in the OFCOM decision?

A: The opinion that the programme was ‘in the public interest’.  This is crucial. The decision accepts that Ella Rose, Director of the Jewish Labour Movement and who was filmed surreptitiously in the programme, had a ‘legitimate expectation of privacy with regard to the inclusion of the footage which showed her having private conversations.’

But that expectation had to be balanced against the ‘public interest’ in the matters being investigated.  In OFCOM’s view, ‘public interest’ (along with ‘freedom of expression’) trumped ‘privacy’.  But the plain fact is, the ‘investigation’ found nothing untowardIn the blog I wrote back in January, I noted  the comment from Andrew Billen in The Times:

“For the life of me I could not see what Israel was doing wrong here. The Lobby sensationally exposed the existence of, well, a lobby.”

How can an investigation which comes up with precisely nothing, possibly be ‘in the public interest’?

Al Jazeera (through Carter-Ruck) claimed that there was prima facie evidence of the existence of a story that was in the public interest, namely, ‘the efforts of a foreign state covertly to influence and interfere with British democracy and the operation of the political system.’

Guess what…Israel’s diplomats do their job, just like British diplomats: to get the best deal for their country. How can the revelation of such an obvious fact possibly be ‘in the public interest’?  In fact the programmes were AGAINST the public interest. Under the cover of an investigation of the so-called ‘Lobby’, this series purposefully fuelled prejudice against Jews. (For the evidence see my blog again).

Effectively Al Jazeera was setting up a ‘straw man’ justification for the programme and OFCOM, unbelievably, swallowed it.  It’s a really dangerous path to go down. Imagine: UK Jewish Community leaders have regular meetings at 10 Downing Street. No doubt Israel is discussed, for example when the Iran Agreement was being drawn up.

According to OFCOM, that allows Al Jazeera, or any other broadcaster, to surreptitiously film the President of the Board of Deputies, the President of the Union of Jewish Students, and any other attendee, and presumably the staff who brief them.

Another example: Presumably in recent days the Spanish Ambassador has been talking to UK policymakers about Catalonia, with a view to shaping the UK response. Does that give Al Jazeera carte blanche to surreptitiously film Sr Carlos Bastarreche and his staff?

Q: But Ambassador Regev apologised, Shai Masot was sent home and Maria Strizzolo resigned as a UK civil servant.  You still maintain that the Al Jazeera investigation came up with nothing?

A: Yes. And Al Jazeera (through Carter-Ruck) was able to cite these acts as ‘evidence’ that it came up with something.

Q: Was Al Jazeera right to surreptitiously film Ms Rose in distress?

A: No. OFCOM got this wrong too. Rule 8.17 of the Broadcast Code states:

‘People in a state of distress should not be put under pressure to take part in a programme or provide interviews, unless it is warranted.’

It says nothing about surreptitious filming, but how can 8.17 not apply a fortiori to that? ‘Unless it is warranted’ means ‘unless there is a public interest ground’, and, as explained above, there wasn’t.

Shockingly Al Jazeera (through Carter-Ruck) tried to argue that Ms Rose’s distress was fair game because it was rooted in her professional capacity, not her personal one.

Rule 8.16 states: Broadcasters should not take or broadcast footage or audio of people caught up in emergencies, victims of accidents or those suffering a personal tragedy, even in a public place, where that results in an infringement of privacy, unless it is warranted or the people concerned have given consent. 

So distress caused by antisemitic bullying doesn’t count if it’s in the context of a job? This is an absurd and offensive distinction.

Q: Ms Rose deliberately downplayed her past employment at the Embassy. Doesn’t this create a public interest reason for surreptitious filming?

A: Another straw man.  The OFCOM report quotes Al Jazeera’s evidence: ‘there were accusations that Ms Rose had deliberately downplayed her past employment at the Embassy.’

Accusations from whom?  And were they credible?  Or were they simply from Asa Winstanley, a known Israel traducer who writes for Electronic Intifada, a renowned Israel-traducing online publication?  Ms Rose is said in the report to have disputed that her employment at the Embassy was ‘played down’ and she provided evidence in the form of social media posts.

So why did OFCOM believe Al Jazeera and not her?

Q: Did OFCOM consider all your complaints?

A: No. My complaint said that rule 2.2 of the Broadcast Code had been breached:

2.2 Factual programmes or items or portrayals of factual matters must not materially mislead the audience.

The ‘investigation’ showed Jean Fitzpatrick coming to the Labour Friends of Israel Stand at the 2016 Labour Party Conference. She is a hardcore anti-Israel activist and it appears to be a ‘setup job’ with her scripted.

But we are not told this.

She is portrayed as if she has come to the Conference simply to participate, with no specific intention.  If she had been recruited specifically as an ‘agent provocateur’ this should have been revealed to the viewer.

My complaint also said that rule 5.13 had been breached:

5.13 Broadcasters should not give undue prominence to the views and opinions of particular persons or bodies on matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy in all the programmes included in any service (listed above) taken as a whole.

The series focused almost entirely on the views of know Israel traducers such as Ben White, Ilan Pappe, Jackie Walker, Asa Winstanley, Peter Oborne and Jean Fitzpatrick.

Q: Was OFCOM correct to rule that the programme respected the ‘impartiality’ provision (#5.5) of the Broadcast Code?

5.5 Due impartiality on matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy must be preserved on the part of any person providing a service (listed above).

A: Due impartiality was clearly lacking.  This was evidenced by the extensive use of commentators known to be Israel traducers: Ben White, Ilan Pappe, Jackie Walker, Asa Winstanley, Peter Oborne, Jean Fitzpatrick. No pro-Israel commentators appeared. Jackie Walker alone was granted over 3 minutes on air. Yet OFCOM – incredibly – thinks that the programme included ‘a range of viewpoints’ (p28).

Q: So all in all, what will be the impact of the OFCOM ruling?

A: The ruling is extremely damaging, principally, but by no means exclusively, to the Jewish Community.  It makes surreptitious filming legitimate on the flimsiest of pretexts and even if there is no material result.  This includes surreptitious filming of Jews distressed by antisemitic bullying, provided this is in the context of their job.  The ruling legitimises a form of Jew-bashing, thus turning the clock back about 500 years.  It shows zero sensitivity and plays into the hands of antisemites.  Moreover there is no right of appeal.

Over to MPs ….

39 replies »

  1. Postscript: The consequences of this appalling miscarriage of justice go way beyond the UK. Al Jazeera (Swisher) has taken it as a green light to broadcast its ‘expose’ of the US pro-Israel community…..

    • Let us talk about something that bothers me. Jackie Walker was recorded without her permission by somebody other than Al Jazeera’s “Robin” and you don’t seem to have a problem with that. And by the way she did criticize Anti-Semitism. Yet she was labeled an anti-semite by somebody who edited footage they filmed secretly. How can you condemn a fair expose on the Pro-Israel Lobby by Al Jazeera that did not involve an unfair amount of editing but not have a problem with a lying creep slandering somebody and destroying their reputation unfairly?

      • Walker was recorded saying antisemitic things. You cannot compare that covert recording of a person in distress after antisemitic bullying. Again, you are making the victim into the perpetrator. Your tactic is blindingly obvious. Moscow School failed in your case.

  2. Do we have record(s) of HMG consultations with reps of the RC heirarchy? or with the oil lobby? oor with Moslem Council of GB?

  3. Once again Jonathan grasps the implications immediately just as he did with the JPR report. The crucial point here is OFCOM found that because the programmes NEVER generalised about Jews there was nothing in it that was antisemitic. Examinations of the behaviour of a foreign power is legitimate. Further individuals and orgs do not have impunity because they are Jewish. Pretty much what the JPR report said and what the overwhelming majority of the populace instinctively knows to be the case.

    Well done again Jonathan

    • Wrong. The series was deeply antisemitic. The intent was something almost as offensive as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – to fuel the antisemitic trope about Jewish power and conspiracy and to turn the allegation of antisemitism back against Jews – to make the victim look like the oppressor, in other words. Anyone with experience in the swamp of antisemitism could see that. OFCOM either couldn’t or didn’t want to.

  4. Jonathan why are you telling me I am wrong. I didn’t write the report or make the judgments. Tell it to OFCOM…….or the marines. Obviously OFCOM, or JPR or the FUCU tribunal or Judge Bathurst Norman or the vast majority of regular people just don’t buy the trope bullchit.

    I merely am congratulating you on your alertness to these facts.

  5. Here is a post by David Hirsh, a Lecturer at a London University. OFCOM stated ‘free speech’ as one of the reasons for finding nothing wrong with the programme. But David – understandably – will now be suspicious of talking to anyone he doesn’t already know. THIS IS ANTI-FREE SPEECH IN OTHER WORDS! ………………..

    “The Al Jazeera spy introduced himself to me as “Robin Harrow”. I met him in the House of Commons as I was leaving the Labour Friends of Israel event at which I had spoken, following the release of the Chakrabarti Inquiry, and on the same day as Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance at the Select Committee inquiry into antisemitism.

    I was with my wife, who speaks German and who knows Germany. He said he had studied at the Freie Universitat Berlin. She asked if he’d known a friend of hers who had taken Jewish Studies there. He didn’t think so.

    I sent him links to my work to read. He wrote back later saying he was particularly impressed by the “Livingstone Concept”. He wrote that it was an “eye opener”.

    He asked if we could have dinner or lunch. I told him that I would be away most of the summer. He came back to me in September and asked for a meeting. I invited him to Goldsmiths. He said he wanted to talk about setting up a youth wing of Labour Friends of Israel.

    In December, a friend of mine who works in one of the institutions of the Jewish community emailed me to tell me that “Harrow” was a spy. Initially I didn’t even remember who he was. I looked on my calendar and my email and vaguely remembered.

    I hadn’t been alert, I hadn’t been suspicious. It isn’t unusual that somebody wants to meet me to talk about my work on antisemitism and its relationship to hostility to Israel.

    I couldn’t remember what I had said to him. I remember asking him if he had come from an ‘anti-Deutsch’ political tradition – quite a few people I know who are serious about opposing contemporary antisemitism are German and come, broadly, from that kind of politics.

    When I was told he was a spy, I couldn’t remember what I had said to him. I was anxious. When I write, I am careful to express myself precisely and unambiguously. When I am chatting with somebody I trust, over coffee, I’m likely to slip into shorthand, which is possible because there are shared understandings and shared meanings. I was trying to remember if I had been showing off, making bad jokes or using shorthand; if I had said anything which would look stupid or bad from the outside if it was taken out of context. I still don’t know. I’m glad I didn’t appear in the film. I was nervous about what might emerge. As it turned out, nearly everybody who was portrayed in the film had not done or said anything wrong at all. But there was still an attempt to make them look menacing.

    He asked me about the connections between lobbying groups and Israel. I think, from memory, that I told him that Israel isn’t very good at fighting antisemitism in the diaspora; that it doesn’t prioritize it, that it isn’t good at understanding it and that what it does is largely counter productive; and that it ought to do much more to fight antisemitism and it ought to do it much better. Fighting antisemitism is one of the purposes for which Israel exists.

    I think I told him that his project of setting up a youth LFI was a hugely difficult project – that we are anyway always accused of ‘lobbying for Israel’ – and that that accusation itself often constituted an antisemitic allegation of conspiracy. I told him that it would be difficult to attract young people to such a project.

    I think I probably told him to find out if there was a danger of conflict between LFI and the Jewish Labour Movement – that he should talk to both. In any case, this would not have helped Al Jazeera to portray all the organisations as a single lobby organised by a foreign power.

    I was interested in him, and how he had come to want to engage in this kind of politics. I told him about my mum, who had been born in Germany and had to leave in 1938. He told me about his English dad and his German mum – and how they had met, I can’t remember where, somewhere outside Germany.

    So, I was left with fear. Perhaps I had said something stupid, something indiscreet, something which would make me look bad; perhaps it could cause me trouble in my job or perhaps it could harm my reputation. I don’t mean to suggest that I say or think something different in private from what I say in public. I don’t. But I think one may express oneself differently according to what one’s audience knows and understands.

    The fear still lingers. Probably, I didn’t say anything stupid; because I’m not stupid; but I doubt myself. Compare with Donald Trump, who insisted that it is impossible for Putin to have anything compromising on him because he has never said or done anything compromising. My own response is to fear, and to doubt myself and to be anxious.

    I am also angry. This man who posed as somebody who had read, understood and liked my work, this man who said he wanted to learn from me, at my university, was actually an antisemite who was hoping to portray me in an antisemitic way as part of an antisemtic project. Of course it is likely that he doesn’t understand himself as an antisemite at all. He understands himself as a hero of the Palestinian revolution. Or whatever. But he had read my work. He should know better.

    He wanted to smoke after we had coffee, so we went to sit outside, at the front of the main building at Goldsmiths. Some of the covert photography in the film was done with a long lens from afar in public places. So this little antisemitic spy, or his collaborators, or his handlers, probably had a camera crew across the road or in a car with a lens pointed at me.

    In the end, this guy was a very small guy and this project was a very small and ineffective project – and they did not get anything from me at all – so far as I know. Good. But the feeling of being lied to by an antisemite over coffee lingers.

    And that he was German grates a little too. Perhaps it shouldn’t. But my family and my wife’s family – and pretty well every Jewish person I know’s family – has been profoundly impacted by German antisemites. As I said, a large proportion of the people who oppose contemporary antisemitsm are German – but this guy didn’t oppose it, he was part of it.”

  6. How the truth hurts. The British public have every right to see the subterfuge of a foreign power trying to influence our democracy. Well done Aljazeera!!

    • What rubbish. Israel’s diplomats do the same as all diplomats. Try to get the best deal for their country.Using words like ‘subterfuge’ and ‘influence democracy’ is simply offensive and demonstrates you’re an antisemite.

      • Jonno Del’s statement was about Israel and as the JPR survey made clear and as OFCOM confirmed, statements about Israel and antisemitic statements are entirely different things. That Jonno Hoffman disagrees doesn’t change that.

        • The fact that your only point of coming onto this site is to bash Israel and stir up fights against Jews (American Jews, even those who live in Texas and make you pee in your pants with every response reminding you that you are, indeed, a Nazi quacking duck) doesn’t change. Ever. 3 years…. 5 years…. 7 years?…. Meanwhile, Israel keeps existing.

          You’re doing a bang up job, Chief.

          • Antisemitism as catcalling and violence against Jews is indeed different from criticising Israel until you cross the line of criticising Israel in a manner you would not criticise other countries such as Ireland Germany or Japan. When criticising Israel becomes objecting to its existence or siding with people like Hamas and Hizbollah which seek to destroy Israel the State and the House of Israel – all Jews on Earth then criticising Israel has become Antisemitism.

          • koufaxmitzvah one may well wonder why Stephen is hanging around on a site he described two years ago, on David Collier’s website, as a “racist cess pit” and worse still with a “Zio Psycho like Adam Levick” who will damage your credibility.
            Don’t worry Stephen you do not have any credibility to damage.

            “Stephen Bellamy on September 11, 2015
            Someone that cross posts on the racist cess pit site ukmediawatch…”

            “Stephen Bellamy on September 12, 2015
            You have still not addressed the issue of your hanging out with a ZioPsycho like Adam Levick which does little for your credibility.”

            • But Gerald didn’t Gladstone hang out with all manner of whores and pimps like in order to save them from themselves ?

              Gerald have you really chased me back a whole two years ? If only I could instil a similar devotion in my wife and kids

              • Stephen is that your best attempt to justify your hanging around, what you have described as a “racist cess pit” site, run by a Managing Editor who you have described as a “ZioPsycho” ?

                Pathetic, even by your abysmally low standards.

                  • Stephen you cannot justify the unjustifiable, but that does not stop you and the other anti-Semites trying to justify your morally reprehensible views.
                    ” I am flattered by your interest” No doubt the rat is also flattered by the interest of the rat catcher. And that Stephen dear boy is all I am doing highlighting and catching an anti-Semitic rat such as you.
                    As usual you will deny that you are an anti-Semite, but all you are doing is mimicking the actions of a rat scurrying and squealing in a futile attempt to avoid the trap.

                    • Gerald I have no interest in justifying the justififiable or the unjustifiable. Are you mistaking me for someone else ?

                      Gerald I denied being an antisemite where ? When? You just made that up.

                    • “Gerald I denied being an antisemite where ? When?”

                      Stephen that question would be funny if it was not ridiculous.
                      Still we are making progress if you are now giving up your futile attempts to deny your own self-evident anti-Semitism.

                    • Stephen repeating the question does not make it, or you, any less ridiculous.
                      But, feel free to carry on you are almost amusing.

                    • Stephen as usual your ‘guess’ is wrong.
                      There are many instances where you have denied online being an anti-Semite, it is a simple matter for anyone to look them up.
                      Seek and you shall find.

                      What is obvious Stephen is that because you are such an anti-Semitic liar who posts lies and conspiracy theories you have tangled yourself up in a web of deceit of your own making. It is such a tangled web that you do not know any longer the difference between reality and your lies.

                      Keep on digging yourself into a bigger hole with your denials Stephen, the deeper the hole become the more amusing it is.

                    • “Then you shouldn’t have any difficulty digging out just one should you Gerald”

                      Quite right Stephen, no difficulty at all.
                      But what is my incentive to use my valuable time proving what everyone already knows that you are a liar with no credibility.

                      Anyone who wants, or needs, confirmation of the FACT that you have in the past denied being an anti-Semite has to do is look up your past comments on this and other sites. The truth is out there Stephen.

                    • By the way Stephen that hole you are digging yourself into is getting bigger and bigger.
                      Taking you apart really is like shooting fish in a barrel, the trouble is after a while you go from being almost amusing to definitely boring.

            • For the same reason he hangs out at David Collier’s blog. He loathes and is fascinated by Jews at the same time. Like a moth to a flame, he cannot stay away.

    • If the British public really cared about the subterfuge of foreign powers influencing their democracy they would clamp down on those who install universities in their country and who appoint their agents as administrators and lecturers/brain-washers there.

      They would similarly refuse to allow their media to be funded and their political slant to be directed by foreigners.

      They would rise up against the monstrous edifice of the British Brainwashing
      Corporation that constructs political fictions, giving the information that suits and blandly ignoring that which doesn’t. They would insist on the light of day being let in to the complaints policy of this despotic organisation and simply fire those who hide behind anonymity and the refusal to respond.

      Who knows who really directs UK policy?

      We have seen how major media like Sky change policy as their ownership changes hands. We see how the pride of Manchester, the Manchester Guardian, has shamefully become the chief PR instrument for Hamas, the most pernicious terrorist organisation in the middle east. They utter not one word of condemnation of teaching children to murder and sending them to die underground while digging spy and attack tunnels. They ignore the system that pays terrorists who murder the innocent in their beds or while eating peacefully in their homes. These are their heroes and these are the heroes of the Guardian’s reporters. Heaven only knows how they excuse their blatant lies to themselves.

      We see how the small brains of the useful idiots are stuffed full of misinformation and PR which they are taught to call opinion and pridefully display here

  7. This worries me. I dont think the article was extreme and was probably correct on many points. But the fact that there is a President trying to close down the NBC affecting the world and waving his willy at the North Koreans . Surely these are the issues which are of relevance regardless of the merits or demerits of the film.

    Good grief is it me ? maybe it’s me.

    PS Banned from the Mail for quoting them here. Sad.

    • Can someone explain to me what the chinless, odious little creep Berchmans is waffling on about? And more importantly how it is relevant to the subject of this thread?

  8. The whole point is that a giant, profoundly antisemitic wave is taking shape in America where actual Nazis are strutting down Main Streets shouting specifically about the Jews and the President is calling it “Fake ” and now threatening NBC. And does Media Watch expose such an horrific situation? In the one article I read Adam attacked the left for hypocrisy rather than the Moron in Chief for not condemning it.

    Im not saying this article has faults . Im asking where the hell is the article showing concern about the US heading Dick first into fascism?

    I hope that helps.