The broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, has dismissed complaints by Campaign Against Antisemitism and others against “The Lobby”, a so-called documentary on Al Jazeera English. Ofcom launched a formal investigation into “The Lobby” following a complaint from Campaign Against Antisemitism in Janaury and three other complaints.
“The Lobby” was premised on a remark by a junior Israeli Embassy employee and an MP’s former adviser. From one brief conversation, the programme attempted to extrapolate the existence of a full-bodied conspiracy, including the suggestion that swathes of the British Jewish community are in league with the Israeli government to subvert British democracy. In our complaint, our Regulatory Enforcement Unit alleged that the programme breached several core Principles of the Broadcasting Code, including accuracy, impartiality, fair treatment of individuals, harmful material and incitement.
However, this morning, Ofcom told us that: “Following careful consideration of the issues raised, Ofcom has decided not to uphold the complaints received”.
Ofcom has published its ruling that “The Lobby” was not in breach of broadcasting rules 2.3 and 5.5 on impartiality and discrimination. Though Ofcom did apply the International Definition of Antisemitism, it stated that it “did not consider that such a critical analysis of the actions of a foreign state constituted antisemitism, particularly as the overall focus of the programme was to examine whether the State of Israel was acting in a manner that would be expected of other democratic nations.” Furthermore, Ofcom ruled that “the programme had included a range of viewpoints on this matter of political controversy…and in light of the nature of the programme and its particular subject matter, we considered that the programme had maintained due impartiality.”
Campaign Against Antisemitism had argued that the programme:
- Argued that the accusation of antisemitism is simply a means by which the Israeli government slurs its enemies, and that by extension Jewish complaints about antisemitic prejudice are disingenuous;
- Proposed that the Labour Party’s antisemitism crisis is manufactured;
- Belittled genuine and legitimate Jewish concerns;
- Portrayed a particular Jewish individual as a thug cynically pretending to be a victim of antisemitism;
- Spun routine internal political discussion and external organising in relation to Israel as conspiratorial and malign;
- Portrayed the Israeli Embassy as controlling a wide network of Jewish and non-Jewish organisations; and
- Placed Shai Masot, a junior Israeli Embassy employee, at the centre of a network, reminiscent of the well-known, historic antisemitic “Jewish Spider” claim with no evidence other than an arrogant offhand remark made by Mr Masot.
Whilst we welcomed Ofcom’s decision to launch a formal investigation, we are extremely disappointed that it has decided to allow Al Jazeera English to escape without rebuke. The suggestions of an overarching conspiracy run by the Israeli Embassy, and that the Labour Party’s antisemitism is manufactured, are very concerning due to the flimsy basis on which they were made, and the overall message of the programme.
The only way to appeal Ofcom’s decision is by bringing an action for judicial review, in which it would have to be proved that Ofcom’s ruling was so unreasonable that no reasonable person acting reasonably could have made it.