Al Jazeera has declared itself “vindicated”, after British regulatory body Ofcom rejected all complaints made against the channel’s undercover series ‘The Lobby’, broadcast in January.
The four-episode investigation looked at efforts by the Israeli embassy in London and a number of pro-Israel lobby groups to influence British political debate, including by smearing critics of Israeli policies and supporters of Palestinian rights.
After ‘The Lobby’ was broadcast, Ofcom received a number of complaints, some of which prompted investigations. The results of these rulings were published today in the body’s regular bulletin.
In its lengthy rulings, Ofcom notes that the complaints received “raised a range of issues about the programme including that they were anti-Semitic and were not duly impartial”. Other complaints “considered that the programme was materially misleading”.
According to Ofcom, this latter allegation was dismissed without further investigation, following information received from Al Jazeera. With respect to the other complaints, Ofcom found Al Jazeera not in breach of the obligation to “due impartiality”, and similarly rejected claims of antisemitism.
“We considered that the allegations in the programme were not made on the grounds that any of the particular individuals concerned were Jewish and noted that no claims were made relating to their faith”, Ofcom states. “We did not consider that the programme portrayed any negative stereotypes of Jewish people as controlling or seeking to control the media or governments”.
It continues: “Rather, it was our view that these individuals featured in the programme in the context of its investigation into the alleged activities of a foreign state (the State of Israel acting through its UK Embassy) and their association with it”.
“We also noted that a number of the organisations featured in the programme, such as Labour Friends of Israel and Conservative Friends of Israel, are not defined by any adherence to Judaism or having a predominantly Jewish membership”.
In what some will see as an ironic twist, Ofcom made reference to a controversial definition of antisemitism that Israel advocacy groups have used in seeking to undermine Palestine solidarity activism and attack critics of Israel.
Citing this definition, Ofcom rejected claims that “critical analysis of the actions of a foreign state constituted anti-Semitism”, since “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”.
Ofcom also rejected complaints made by three individuals who featured in the documentary: Ella Rose, Jewish Labour Movement director; Russell Langer, now at the Jewish Leadership Council, and Luke Akehurst, head of BICOM’s ‘We Believe in Israel’ project and a Labour Party activist.
Ofcom rejected Rose’s claim that she had been “treated unjustly or unfairly in the programme as broadcast”. Ofcom said it did not accept Rose’s claim that to reject her complaint “risks creating a precedent for the infringement of the privacy of any Jewish person involved in public life”.
Each privacy complaint we receive is considered on its facts, and must always be assessed in light of the particular circumstances of each case”
Ofcom similarly failed to uphold a complaint made of “unjust or unfair treatment and unwarranted
infringement of privacy” made by Kingsley Napley LLP on behalf of Russell Langer, and a separate complaint on the same grounds by Kingsley Napley LLP on behalf of Luke Akehurst.
Responding to the published rulings, a statement by Al Jazeera said: “This goes to show that no matter what Al Jazeera’s critics say, its journalism meets and exceeds the highest standards of objectivity and balance. We feel vindicated by the rulings and evermore committed to exposing human rights violations by anyone—regardless of geography, religion, or the power of their lobbies”.
‘The Lobby’, made by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit, made news in Britain and around the world, in particular for its covert footage of Shai Masot, the Israeli Embassy’s then Senior Political Officer, in discussion with a British civil servant plotting to “take down” government minister Sir Alan Duncan.
Masot was subsequently returned to Israel, and Ambassador Mark Regev formally apologised.