BBC’s Emily Maitlis simply assumes that accusations of antisemitism are true

In an interview with Momentum chief Jon Lansman on Newsnight on 26th January, presenter Emily Maitlis made unfounded allegations against suspended Labour Party member David Watson who has been fighting for justice within the party for more than 20 months.

The BBC has issued a mealy-mouthed response to the many complaints it has received on this issue. We publish here one such complaint from a JVL member, the BBC response and the follow up from the complainant.

A transcript of Maitlis’s interview can be read at the bottom of this post. You can hear the relevant part of the interview starting at 5’14” into the clip above.

First complaint

Emily Maitlis made slanderous allegations against a member of the Labour Party who has been suspended pending investigation as well as unfounded assertions about the Labour Party’s attitude to antisemitism and the behaviour Party members in Walthamstow.

Statements she made during the interview, repeatedly attempting to force Jon Lansman, head of Momentum, into directing the Walthamstow Momentum group to cease its support for David Watson, were inaccurate and prejudicial to his case. This is in clear breach of the BBC code on impartiality and fairness.

Her statement that David Watson “has been suspended from the Labour Party for his antisemitic views” is an unfounded calumny. No evidence has been presented to demonstrate that David Watson holds “antisemitic views” or has made any “antisemitic remarks”.  The truth or otherwise of allegations against David Watson has yet to be established since there has been no investigation and no judgement either for or against him. He must be presumed innocent until proven to be guilty.

Maitlis insinuated that the delay in prosecuting him reflected a failure on the part of the Labour Party in dealing with antisemitism. This is not so.

Initial response from the BBC

Thank you for your comments on the live interview that Emily Maitlis conducted with Jon Lansman on 25th January.

As you would have seen from the interview one of the areas we were probing in our interview with Mr Lansman was the relationship between Momentum centrally and local branches of the organisation.

The issue of anti-Semitism in and around the Labour Party has been much discussed and debated in recent years. The intense and on-going debate over what constitutes anti-Semitism continues both in general terms and specifically with regard to suspension of Labour Party members. We wanted to ask Mr Lansman on the record about allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

The allegations about David Watson’s suspension from the Labour Party have been reported and in the public domain for over 18 months. In our question to Jon Lansman we were examining whether he would endorse a local Momentum group in their actions.

We accept that in the live interview we could have stated more clearly that the case is on-going but the programme did make clear that the allegation of antisemitism against Mr Watson is not accepted by his supporters. While we could have made clear that he is of this view too, we felt it was implicit that any suggestion of antisemitism is also denied by him.

Thanks again for getting in touch.

Kind Regards
BBC Complaints Team

Second stage complaint

This response is totally unsatisfactory.

You say: The allegations about David Watson’s suspension from the Labour Party have been reported and in the public domain for over 18 months. In our question to Jon Lansman we were examining whether he would endorse a local Momentum group in their actions. 

This is exactly the problem. You present the fact that allegations were made as proof of culpability. You suggest that David Watson’s supporters are knowingly backing an antisemite. This is unfair, inaccurate and biased.

Emily Maitlis describes David Watson as: a man who has been suspended from the Labour Party for his antisemitic views. Later she tells Jon Lansman he should instruct Momentum members: “Don’t back people who have been suspended for anti-Semitic remarks.”

Jon Lansman understandably did not feel able to comment on the individual case so could only repeat that there is a process going on. Maitlis brushed this aside, presenting Watson (has she spoken to him?) as someone who deserves to be expelled as an antisemite. She alleges that those who are supporting him are backing an antisemite. Did she ask any of the people who are supporting him for their real reasons? Clearly not, because she would have learned that they are supporting him because they know he has made no antisemitic remarks, has been unjustly suspended for Facebook posts none of which are antisemitic and he has been left in limbo for 20 months while charges he contests hang over him.

If the best you can say is “we felt it was implicit that any suggestion of antisemitism is also denied by him” this is a measure of how incredibly weak your defence is.

I wish to formally appeal the initial decision from the complaints team.

David Watson and those members of the Labour Party who have been campaigning on his behalf deserve a public apology from Newsnight. The BBC should publish a statement, approved by David Watson, correcting the inaccuracies in Emily Maitlis’s interview.

Transcription of what Emily Maitlis said about David Watson on BBC Newsnight 25 January 2018

Emily Maitlis: ‘In that spirit of unity, when you have a local Momentum group continuing to support and campaign for a man who has been suspended from the Labour Party for his antisemitic views, what role do you need to play as chairman of Momentum?’

Lansman: ‘I am a Jew. I have experienced antisemitism… I am determined to root antisemitism out.’

Emily Maitlis: ‘So, at the moment – you know what I’m talking about of course. Local Momentum groups, for example, in Walthamstow supporting David Watson, who was suspended from the Labour Party. I’m just trying to get to the bottom of this. Do you tell that local Momentum group to get in line because the Labour have suspended that man for anti-Semitic remarks or do you say everyone can do what they want?

Lansman: ‘First of all we’re talking about someone who has been suspended but not yet removed from the Labour Party. There are processes…’

Emily Maitlis: ‘It’s taken 18 months…’

Lansman: ‘There should be proper processes. I want to see them improved and speeded up. However there should be proper processes. But we are very clear in Momentum, that if people are not members of the Labour Party they cannot be members of Momentum. We are a Labour Party organisation. We are the mainstream.’

EM: ‘So what would be your message to Momentum? “Don’t back people who have been suspended for anti-Semitic remarks’ or ‘do what you want”?’

Lansman: ‘If someone have made anti-semitic remarks then we have do something about that. But we have to do that through a process because we believe in natural justice.’





Comments (3)

  • philiph35 says:

    How, really does this differ from the comments to your earlier article “A rise in antisemitism in 2017 – a wake-up call to all antiracists” which end up assuming that accusations of antisemitism are – to a greater or lesser extent – untrue?

  • John says:

    The BBC is the Badly Biased Corporation.
    Having been a participant in a project examining the BBC’s one-sided role in supporting Israel against the Palestinians over a number of years, I long ago wrote off the BBC as a source of impartial and independent news.
    Maitlis – of course – breached the rules of natural justice by not placing the word ‘alleged’ before the word antisemite or antisemitism.
    Even then, we have to understand that she is just a mouthpiece.
    She did not write out the actual questions she asked.
    What we need to know is just who her producer is – and their background.
    Lansman is a disgrace. Not only has he continued to lend support to the fake accusations of antisemitism in the Labour Party but it is clear that he is more concerned about getting Momentum and himself even more power.
    The BBC, Maitlis and Lansman are all part of the UK hasbara network.
    Mark Regev must be very pleased with his handiwork.

  • David WATSON says:

    This is the second time that there has been a Newsnight connection to negative publicity surrounding me. The first time was in August 2016 when I had been assisting in a Corbyn for leader phone bank event (not a Labour party event). Jeremy Corbyn himself paid us a visit during the evening and we had a group photo taken which Jeremy tweeted the following day. By midday I was being contacted by the press asking me if I was still suspended and if so why was I at this event with Jeremy Corbyn? I ignored the communications but I wondered how they knew I had been there? I traced the various media on Twitter and it appears that the first person to publicly query my presence was Chris Cook, policy editor for Newsnight. How did he recognise me when I’ve never had any contact with him? He and Dan Fox (Stella Creasy’s partner) follow each other on Twitter. Maybe just a coincidence but I don’t think so. Stella and Dan as members of my CLP would of course, recognise me.

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