If we are not able to pursue our journalism freely and have honest debate and analysis over how we are covering important issues, then how effectively we can serve the public will be diminished
Friday, October 2, 2009
Well OK, we don't need a report to tell us the BBC is biased...
A legal bid to force publication of a BBC review of its Middle East coverage has been rejected in the High Court.
London lawyer Steven Sugar wanted the so-called Balen report, which was drawn up in 2004, to be revealed under the Freedom of Information Act.
But Mr Justice Irwin ruled that, as the material was held "for the purposes of journalism, art or literature", the corporation had no duty to disclose it.
He also ruled the BBC did not have to disclose information about expenditure.
The judgement followed requests for budget details of the BBC's news and sport coverage as well as programmes including EastEnders and Top Gear.
In 2004, senior news editor Malcolm Balen examined hundreds of hours of television and radio broadcasts to compile the 20,000-word report.
Mr Sugar, from Putney, south London, wanted it to be part of the debate about alleged anti-Israeli bias at the BBC.
He has argued that the Freedom of Information Act was badly drafted and prevented disclosure of material which should be publicly available.
But the BBC said the report was always intended as an internal review of programme content, to inform future output.
It has said it was vital for independent journalism that debates among its staff about how it covers stories do not have to be opened up to the public gaze.
In his judgment on the Steven Sugar case, the judge said he had taken account of the fact that the BBC was a public body under the Act which was publicly funded, adding that there was a public interest in accessing information about its activities.
But he also said there was a public interest in preserving the freedom of journalism as well as creative and artistic activity.
He told the court: "Different views may legitimately be taken about these questions, particularly at the margins or where the principles collide.
"The resolution is for Parliament, not for the courts or the tribunal. The resolution is contained within the proper meaning of the language of the statute."
Welcoming the ruling, a spokesman for the corporation said: "The BBC's position is that free and impartial journalism is vital to our viewers and listeners and is at the heart of public service broadcasting.
"If we are not able to pursue our journalism freely and have honest debate and analysis over how we are covering important issues, then how effectively we can serve the public will be diminished."
After initially being dismissed by the Information Commissioner, Mr Sugar's request to see the report gained the backing of the Information Tribunal.
The BBC's subsequent appeal against that decision was upheld by the High Court in 2007, backed by the Appeal Court the following year.
The High Court and Appeal Court supported the BBC, saying that the case fell outside the scope of the act and that the Information Tribunal had no jurisdiction.
However, the Law Lords ruled that the tribunal did have jurisdiction, and that the High Court must reconsider the case based on the other issues raised in the BBC's defence.
Posted by News Service at 11:41 AM