Report alleging media “distortions” of antisemitism crisis riddled with bias

Media Reform Coalition report branding coverage of Labour antisemitism as "misleading" was authored by member of group founded to challenge antisemitism allegations.

A report branding coverage of Labour’s antisemitism crisis as “misleading” and “distorted” was authored by a member of a group founded to challenge allegations of antisemitism in the party.

The Red Roar can also reveal that the Media Reform Coalition report celebrated by far-left figures was not peer-reviewed before publication, alleges a media conspiracy to overthrow Corbyn and bears the logo of Birkbeck University despite their insistence it “is not an official university work”.

The report, titled “Labour, Antisemitism and the news”, examines the media’s coverage of the racism row and claims to “identified myriad inaccuracies and distortions” which amount to “a disinformation paradigm”.

It was reported approvingly by alt-left blogs Skwawkbox, The Canary and Evolve Politics, and received the backing of far-left figures including Labour MP Chris Williamson, Noam Chomsky, Ken Loach, Yanis Varoufakis and Brian Eno.

But one of the report’s two authors is a member of Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), a group whose chair Jenny Manson says was set up to “tackle allegations of antisemitism within the Labour Party”.

University lecturer and former rock vocalist Justin Schlosberg recently tweeted that he is a member of JVL, and in a letter carried on the group’s website in March criticised what he called the “suspect timing” of reports of Labour antisemitism which he linked to a “smear campaign against Corbyn’s Labour” and “the right-wing Jewish lobby”.

The academic also wrote to the Guardian in praise of the launch of his own report, joined by a number of JVL members who also signed the letter. They included JVL co-chair Leah Levane who said “Jews are often agents rather than instigators of exploitation”, and secretary Glyn Secker who claimed “the wave of antisemitism in the Labour Party is invisible”.

Despite being labelled an “academic report” by alt-left outlets, its author had decided not to have it peer reviewed by other academics, the usual standard used to eliminate bias and determine an academic paper’s suitability for publication. This may be one reason why Schlosberg’s Birkbeck University demanded a correction from alt-left blog Skwawkbox to make it clear the report “is not an official university work”. Despite this, Schlosberg’s report still features the university’s logo on its cover.

The report itself trumpets its discovery of “over 90 clear cut examples of misleading or inaccurate reporting” of Labour antisemitism, but on closer inspection they are nothing of the sort.

Despite accepting as a “starting assumption” that “the IHRA definition is the only ‘internationally agreed’ definition of antisemitism”, the report’s methodology considers it a serious reporting error to describe the IHRA definition as “widely”, “broadly”, “universally”, “unanimously” or “globally” agreed. The report rejects 55 news reports in their entirety – over half of the 95 it rejects in total – on these preposterous grounds.

Other sections of the report reject articles that disagree with the authors’ own interpretation of events. Thirteen identified examples of “misleading or inaccurate reporting” concern Marc Wadsworth’s expulsion for alleging that Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth was working “hand-in-hand” with the media at the launch of the Chakrabarti Report. The authors claim Wadsworth’s remarks should not have been reported as being antisemitic because they were in fact “well-founded” on the basis of a conspiracy theory that “the event was swiftly followed by a wave of shadow cabinet resignations that was at least partly orchestrated with the media, including the BBC”. The article the report uses to evidence this point was dated January 2016 and refers to a resignation made five months before the 2016 leadership challenge.

The report criticises the media’s failure to report a letter signed by “84 groups representing British and Asian Minority groups across Britain”, compared to widespread coverage of an unprecedented letter signed by 68 rabbis drawn from all denominations. That BAME letter was later revealed to have been signed by fake groups, defunct organisations, and groups that have shared antisemitic material on social media.

Schlosberg takes an entirely different approach to media outlets he agrees with, praising alt-left blogs The Canary and Skwawkbox in subsequent interviews. Despite the fact that the blogs in question have shared stories suggesting that Israel is behind ISIS, that there is a “Jewish War against Corbyn” and handed platforms to expelled Labour members, Schlosberg said “we found no evidence of any inaccurate reporting on the Canary, Skwawkbox or Evolve Politics”, and went on “if there was any imbalance of sources that was entirely justified by its editorial identity that is very much based on correcting the mainstream narrative”.

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