BBC wins FOI appeal

Report on Middle Eastern coverage to remain confidential

The BBC has won its appeal to keep secret an internal report on its coverage of the Middle East. The High Court accepted that the Information Tribunal, which had ruled that the broadcaster must make the report public, did not have any such jurisdiction.

The 20,000 word report was compiled by Malcolm Balen, a senior editorial adviser, after he had examined hundreds of hours of BBC radio and television broadcasts. Critics of the organisation believe the report contains evidence of anti-Israeli bias.

The BBC denied solicitor Steven Sugar’s request to see the report under the Freedom of Information Act on the basis that it was information held for the purposes of “journalism, art or literature” and thereofore exempt from disclosure. The Information Commissioner agreed with the BBC but the Information Tribunal found in Mr Sugar’s favour and ordered the BBC to disclose the report. However, the High Court accepted the BBC’s contention that the Tribunal did not have jurisdiction to hear such an appeal.

Mr Justice Davis held that the where the Information Commissioner agreed with a public service broadcaster that information was outside the scope of the Act, there was no right of appeal to the Tribunal. The only option open to the person requesting the information was an application to the High Court for judicial review. Mr Sugar’s application for judicial review was heard at the same time as the BBC’s appeal and dismissed.

The Judge found this state of affairs to be “most odd” and “potentially inconvenient” and said that there were “powerful reasons in favour of there being a right of appeal to the Tribunal” in such circumstances, but nevertheless said that the words of the Act were clear.