The February 4th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ included an item concerning Venezuela which presenter Ritula Shah brought to a close with a question (from 23:31 here) on a different topic to one of her interviewees – Chris Williamson – whom she had earlier introduced as a “Labour MP and close ally of Jeremy Corbyn”.
Shah: “I want to ask you one more question. Labour MPs tonight have unanimously passed a motion calling for the party leadership to do more to tackle antisemitism and the MPs accuse the party’s general secretary Jennie Formby, who was at the meeting, of ignoring the demands and refusing to give the answers they wanted. You weren’t at that meeting, I know, but you have been at odds with those levelling accusations of antisemitism at Labour’s structure. I wonder what you make of tonight’s move.” [emphasis added]
Williamson: “Well I think it’s an incredibly unfair criticism of Jennie Formby. She’s done more than any previous general secretary to address a backlog of complaints, including antisemitism. She’s appointed an in-house counsel. She’s expanded the national constitutional committee that deals with serious…ehm…accusations of mis…of misdeeds and she’s increased staff to deal with this matter.”
Shah: “So you don’t think the MPs are justified?”
Williamson: “No absolutely not. I think it’s incredibly unfair. Jennie’s done more than anybody to deal with the cancer of antisemitism and we have to stand united against antisemitism and all forms of bigotry and racism and she’s done precisely that.”
The BBC’s domestic audience would of course have been better equipped to judge that predictable messaging from Williamson had they first been informed what Shah meant by “at odds with those levelling accusations of antisemitism at Labour’s structure”.
“He said rows over Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism within Labour and his approach to Venezuela were “proxy wars and bullshit”.
“I’m not saying it never ever happens but it is a really dirty, lowdown trick, particularly the antisemitism smears. Many people in the Jewish community are appalled by what they see as the weaponisation of antisemitism for political ends.”
Williamson subsequently described reactions to those comments as “positively sinister” and in 2018 portrayed antisemitism related disciplinary actions within the Labour party as “ridiculous suspensions and expulsions from the party… in the most grotesque and unfair way”.
While a person who publicly states that antisemitism has been ‘weaponised’ and that concerns about racism in the Labour party are “smears” and “bullshit” may not have been the best choice of commentator on the meeting that was the topic of Shah’s question, clearly audience understanding of his comments would have been enhanced had his stance on the core issue been better clarified in line with the BBC editorial guideline concerning the “need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint”.