Journalist Robert Peston said he was denied an interview with Jeremy Corbyn because Labour communications chief Seamas Milne felt Peston had been partial in reporting the Chief Rabbi’s criticism of his boss.
The ITV political editor revealed Milne’s angry texts this week while delivering the annual Hugh Cudlipp Lecture at City University in London, during which he said he now felt compelled to say he was Jewish when covering antisemitism.
The contretemps with Milne focused on the run-up to December’s general election, when Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis penned an explosive critique of Corbyn’s failings over antisemitism for The Times.
When Peston pointed out that Corbyn had refused to be interviewed by him during the campaign, Milne allegedly replied: “Your reporting on Labour has not been remotely fair or balanced and included a high degree of slanted editorialising, reaching a low point in your broadcast on the 10 [news bulletin] on 26/11 .”
Milne, a fellow journalist at The Guardian who has been Corbyn’s director of strategy and communications, may have taken issue with Peston’s statement that “Labour’s administrative machinery failed miserably to respond to… multiple disclosures that antisemitism was poisoning the party”.
This week Peston defended his coverage as “impartial, both in respect of Ofcom’s rules and as a matter of common sense”.
He continued: “The point I made was how shocking it was that the leader of an important section of the Jewish community should feel obliged to speak out during a general election, and that he was moved to do so by the deep hurt and fear felt by many of his congregation.
“This alienation of an important part of a British community could not be ignored, which is why I was surprised – to put it mildly – that Milne cited it when disqualifying me as a suitable interviewer of his boss. Would Milne or any of us have qualms about a woman journalist reporting on gender pay inequality or a gay journalist covering gay marriage in the church? I doubt it.”