Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal sells audiences short

BBC News website coverage of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal announced on April 23rd includes two written items and three filmed reports to date.

The main article on the subject initially appeared on April 23rd under the title “Palestinian Hamas-Fatah unity deal announced” but currently goes under the heading “Hamas and Fatah unveil Palestinian reconciliation deal“. Some of the extensive changes made to the report since its initial publication can be viewed here.

As has so often been the case in the past, this BBC report downplays the very relevant subject of the extent of Hamas’ terror designation by informing readers that:Hamas fatah deal main

“Israel – along with the US and the EU – views the Islamist Hamas group as a terrorist organisation.”

Canada, Japan and Egypt – which also categorise Hamas as a terrorist organization – are not mentioned. Neither are the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, all of which proscribe Hamas’ Izz al Din al Qassam Brigades.

At the end of the article’s current version readers are told that:

“Shortly after Wednesday’s reconciliation deal was announced, five people were injured in an Israeli air strike in northern Gaza, Palestinian medics said.

Israel said it had targeted militants preparing to fire rockets. On Monday, seven rockets were launched from the territory into southern Israel.”

However, readers of an earlier version of the report were mistakenly led to believe that there was some kind of connection between the air strike and the reconciliation deal when they were merely informed that:

“Shortly after the deal was announced, Israel launched an air strike in northern Gaza that wounded four people. It came two days after Gaza militants launched rockets into southern Israel.”

That wording was later altered to read:

“Shortly after the reconciliation deal was announced, five people were injured in an Israeli air strike in northern Gaza, Palestinian medics said. Witnesses said the target appeared to be two men riding a motorcycle.

It comes two days after militants launched rockets from the coastal territory into Israel.”

The briefly mentioned two day-old incidents of missile fire were not reported by the BBC at the time and in none of the versions of this article is any mention made of the fact that even as BBC journalists were updating and amending this report, a further bout of missile attacks was launched from the Gaza Strip at Israeli civilians.

The article includes quotes from Yolande Knell, with predictably uncritical amplification of the PA party line:

“Ordinary Palestinians have long hoped for an end to the split between their political leaders but previous reconciliation deals in Doha and Cairo were never implemented, says the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.

The agreement will strengthen the position of Mr Abbas – whose Fatah movement dominates the Palestinian Authority, which controls parts of the West Bank – and should also make Hamas feel less isolated as it continues to face border restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt, our correspondent adds.”

The basis for Knell’s claim that the deal “will strengthen the position of Mr Abbas” is unclear and in fact the exact opposite is no less likely to be the case, both on the domestic front and internationally. Predictably, Knell offers no context to the subject of “border restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt” or with regard to the connection between Hamas terrorism and those restrictions.

Overall, this report omits the bulk of the background information crucial for audience understanding of the significance of this Hamas-PLO brokered deal. It fails to adequately clarify that there is no evidence to suggest that the supposedly ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority conditioned Hamas’ entry into a unity government on the renunciation of terror by that organization: a scenario which – according to a recent interview with senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al Zahar – is more than unlikely.

The report also fails to clarify to audiences that beyond an unofficial, unqualified statement by Jibril Rajoub, there is no sign of the PA having insisted on Hamas’ acceptance of the conditions laid down by the Quartet: recognition of Israel, an end to violence and recognition of all previously signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. As the Canadian government has already made clear, a Palestinian government which does not accept those basic principles is unlikely to find its position ‘strengthened’, as Knell claims. The issue of the potential addition of Hamas to the PLO and the likely international reaction to that scenario is not explored and the subject of what a Palestinian government which includes an internationally designated terrorist organization could mean in terms of the PA’s status at the UN is also ignored.

In fact, instead of providing audiences with any realistic analysis of the detrimental effects of this move on the latest round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO, the report merely amplifies misleading PA sound-bites, failing to make any attempt to clarify to BBC audiences why this is in fact not just an “internal” Palestinian matter.

“Palestinian officials responded by saying reconciliation was an internal matter and uniting Palestinian people would reinforce peace.

In a statement, Mr Abbas said there was “no incompatibility between reconciliation and the talks” and that they were committed to peace on the basis of a two-state solution.”

In addition to this main report, the BBC News website also promoted an additional article by Yolande Knell in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of its Middle East page. Dated April 24th and titled “Scepticism over Hamas and Fatah reconciliation deal“, Knell’s piece likewise downplays the extent of Hamas’ terror designation.

“Along with the US and the European Union, Israel views Hamas as a terrorist group.”

That only partially accurate statement is repeated in the caption to a photograph used to illustrate Knell’s article.

“Israel – along with the US and the EU – views the Islamist Hamas group as a terrorist organization”

Hamas Fatah deal knell art photo

Whilst liberally garnishing her report with quotes from the ‘man in the coffee shop’, Knell makes no attempt to convey to readers what a deal which brings an intransigent, antisemitic, terrorist organization which denies Israel’s right to exist into the Palestinian government actually signifies with regard to the PA’s commitment to negotiations intended to bring about a peaceful and lasting conclusion to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In common with the main report, she uncritically promotes bizarre PA sound bites.Hamas Fatah deal Knell art main

“Palestinian officials retorted that uniting their factions would empower the leadership to make more credible negotiations with Israel and implement any future peace agreement.

In a statement, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat expressed “severe disappointment” at Israel’s response.

“National reconciliation is imperative in order to achieve a just and lasting peace. We hope that we will be able to successfully close this dark chapter of our history,” he said.”

Like the main report, Knell’s article also fails to explore the significance of the fact that the PLO does not appear to have made renunciation of terror and other important factors a condition for the reconciliation deal. Hence, readers are not provided with the necessary background to enable them to judge the following statement made by Knell and the quotes she includes from Israeli officials.

“However Israel’s reaction to the announcement was very negative.”

In fact, one of the few parts of Knell’s article which can realistically be described as analysis is the following:

“However, the Palestinians know they must tread carefully as they determine the details of any unity government.

Most Western governments forbid foreign aid going to Hamas, and the debt-ridden PA – which relies on international donors – will not want to jeopardise its funding.”

The decision to make the subject of scepticism regarding the implementation of this reconciliation deal the focus of this article – without adequate explanation of why similar previous initiatives have failed in the past, what such repeated efforts signify with regard to the Palestinian Authority’s attitude to terror and what message that sends to the Israeli side of the peace negotiations – means that BBC audiences once again remain bereft of vital background information which would properly enable them to “build a global understanding of international issues“.

The BBC’s filmed reports on this topic will be discussed in a later post. 



Another Hizballah plot against Israeli tourists gets the BBC silent treatment

Earlier this month the authorities in Thailand arrested two suspected Hizballah terrorists.Thailand

“Investigations into two suspected foreign terrorists are progressing swiftly as one of the men admitted to a planned attack on Israeli tourists in Khao San Road during Songkran, according to an investigator. […]

They were arrested on suspicion of links to militant Islamist group, Hezbollah.”

Via Ha’aretz we learn that:

“The men arrived in Bangkok on April 13, and police suspect they were planning to direct an attack on Israeli travelers during Passover.

The two suspects are Daoud Farhat, a Lebanese national who also holds French citizenship, and Youssef Ayad, a Lebanese man who is a citizen of the Philipines. […]

The two are suspected of belonging to a larger terror cell, thought to be comprised of at least nine Hezbollah members. […]

A senior officer in the Thailand police told the Bangkok Post that Ayad admitted he was planning attacks against Israelis while under investigation. Various materials that could be used to fabricate bombs were found in his Bangkok residence, the officer said, adding that further searches would be carried out in other residences thought to be used by members of the cell.”

As readers will of course be aware, this is far from the first time that Hizballah has carried out or planned attacks against Israeli tourists abroad.

The BBC’s reporting on a previous incident in Cyprus began as non-existent and proceeded to tardy. Its reporting of the 2012 bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria, in which six people were killed and dozens injured has been hallmarked by the use of the euphemistic term “militants” to describe an internationally active, Iranian backed terror group. BBC coverage has promoted the myth of a separate “armed wing” to the organization.  Hizballah’s designation as a terrorist organization has frequently been inaccurately represented and downplayed by the BBC, including in a report concerning a previous incident in Thailand

In this case, the BBC has chosen to ignore the story altogether. 

BBC’s Knell politicises St George’s Day with promotion of PA propaganda

In what at first glance might seem like nothing more than a downright amazing display of her ability to shoehorn a Palestinian angle into any and every topic under the sun, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell produced a St George’s Day article on April 22nd which was promoted in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page and in its ‘Magazine’ section under the heading “George of Palestine – Why St George is a hero on the West Bank”. A filmed version of the report – shown on BBC television news – also appeared on the website on April 23rd. 

St George magazine


Knell’s written article – titled “Why St George is a Palestinian hero” – opens:St George art

“As England celebrates the day of its patron saint, many Palestinians are gearing up for their own forthcoming celebrations of the figure they also regard as a hero.”

It continues:

“However, Palestinians have particular reason to display the symbol and revere the early Christian martyr. For them he is a local hero who opposed the persecution of his fellow Christians in the Holy Land.”

Knell of course neglects to point out that the location of the legend of the martyrdom of St George – Nicomedia, which is modern-day Izmit in north-west Turkey – is not a place which informed people would include in any definition of “the Holy Land”. She goes on to quote Atallah Hanna.

“We believe he was a great martyr for his faith who defended the Christian faith and values,” says Greek Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna.

“By making sacrifices for his faith he was able to defeat evil. We take St George as a patron for people living here – and as he was born in historic Palestine, we pray to him to remember us and this holy land.”

If the name of Knell’s clerical interviewee sounds familiar, that is of probably because of his rather more earthly extensive political activity. Atallah Hanna is one of the authors of the Kairos Document and gave his endorsement to the 2012 exercise in delegitimisation of Israel known as the ‘Global March to Jerusalem’. He sits on the board of advisors to the flotilla-organising ‘Free Gaza’ movement which is linked to the ISM. In 2002 – during the second Intifada – he was sacked by his own church from the position of spokesman after having allegedly condoned terrorism and in the same year was detained  by the Israeli authorities on suspicion of illegally entering an enemy country.St George on hp

Despite clear BBC editorial guidelines concerning the need “to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint”, Knell of course neglects to inform her readers of the Archbishop’s political motivations for the promotion of “historic Palestine” as the place of St George’s birth. She reinforces the political sub-text running through her piece by going on to write:

“While the saint’s father is usually traced back to Cappadocia, an area in modern Turkey, it is believed his mother was Palestinian from Lydda – now Lod, in Israel.” [emphasis added]

Of course the legend of St George is exactly that: folklore. His very existence is a matter of belief rather than fact and opinions regarding his supposed place of birth and death vary, with even the BBC claiming in an article to which there is a link in Knell’s piece that he was born in Cappadocia in today’s Turkey.

Nevertheless, Knell’s historically challenged promotion of the patron saint of England as a Palestinian born in “historic Palestine” rather than a citizen of a province of the Roman Empire, together with her barely veiled attempt to draw a connecting line between a figure of folklore who “opposed the persecution of his fellow Christians in the Holy Land” and modern-day Palestinians, indicate that this supposedly light-hearted report is in fact nothing more than yet another of her self-conscripted promotions of the politically motivated PA public relations narrative.

Related Articles:

 BBC’s Knell promotes political church campaign supported by BBC funder


BBC’s Natalia Antelava shows how antisemitism can be reported accurately and impartially

We have on numerous occasions in the past criticized the BBC on these pages for its downplaying of antisemitism in the United Kingdom – see for example here, here and here.

It was therefore all the more refreshing to see three recent reports by Natalia Antelava in which the recent events in Donetsk involving a threatening letter distributed to the Jewish community by unknown persons were presented in a realistic and measured manner.

On April 18th Natalia Antelava produced a filmed report for BBC television news which also appeared on the BBC News website.  In that report she correctly pointed out that:

“….it doesn’t really matter who is behind this letter. What matters is the fact that someone has felt confident enough to write it and to distribute it…”

Ukraine 1

On April 19th another filmed report by Natalia Antelava also appeared on BBC television news and on the website. In that report too she pointed out that:

“….we still don’t know who the authors [of the letter] are but in a way it almost doesn’t matter. The very fact that someone has dared to write and distribute the letter is enough of a reason to worry.”

Ukraine 2

Natalia Antelava’s third report on the threats against the Jewish community in Donetsk is a written article titled “Ukraine crisis: Donetsk anti-Semitic leaflets stir old fears” which appeared on both the Europe and Middle East pages of the BBC News website on April 19th.

Ukraine 3

The clarity of vision and the ability to call a spade a spade as displayed by Natalia Antelava in these three reports stands in refreshing contrast to the BBC’s very patchy record on reporting antisemitism on its home turf.   

BBC silent on holiday terror attacks in southern Israel

On the morning of April 21st, as the last day of Pessah was being celebrated in Israel, missiles were fired from the Gaza Strip at communities in the vicinity of the border in several consecutive incidents.

In all, seven missiles landed inside Israeli territory, with two of them landing in Sderot but thankfully not causing any injuries and only light damage. The attacks were later claimed by the Yahya Ayyash Brigades.

In addition, on the same morning an RPG was fired at Israeli soldiers patrolling the border fence and the evening before had seen an improvised explosive device activated against another IDF patrol on the southern part of the border with the Gaza Strip.

Later in the day the Israeli Air Force responded by targeting terror-related sites in the Gaza Strip.

Here is how the Middle East page of the BBC News website looked in the late afternoon of Monday, April 21st.

Mon aft hp

Here is how it looked on the morning of Tuesday, April 22nd.

Tues morn hp

In other words, the firing of seven potentially lethal missiles in a matter of hours at civilians celebrating a holiday was deemed not newsworthy by the BBC.



BBC News produces article about man held up for half an hour

An article about Easter celebrations in Jerusalem which first appeared on the BBC News website on April 19th under the title “Easter’s Holy Fire ceremony celebrated in Jerusalem” was later turned into a blatantly political piece when an amended version was republished under the title “UN envoy and Israel in Easter ritual access row“.Serry art

Readers can view the changes made to that report here.

The report’s latest version opens thus:

“The UN’s Middle East peace envoy has criticised Israeli authorities for allegedly preventing him from reaching an Easter ritual in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

According to the Oxford dictionary, the word prevent means to “keep (something) from happening” or to “stop (someone) from doing something” and so readers would reasonably assume that Robert Serry was unable to take part in the Easter ritual.

In fact, as the Washington Post informs us, Mr Serry’s arrival at the ceremony was delayed for thirty minutes due to necessary security measures of the type seen anywhere in the world when a large crowd arrives in one place at the same time – and all the more essential in a city which has been the target of numerous terror attacks over the years.

“Serry spokeswoman Elpida Rouka said that the envoy and his party were trapped for about 30 minutes but that eventually the police retreated and the group, along with “an anxious crowd of worshipers,” was able to enter.”

Contradicting its own earlier assertion that Serry was ‘prevented’ from reaching the ceremony, the BBC report also later uses the words ‘delay’ and ‘held up’:

“Robert Serry said the delay was “unacceptable behaviour” and called on all parties to “respect the right of religious freedom”.” […]

“Mr Serry said that he was held up at a checkpoint along with other diplomats and dozens of Palestinians trying to make their way to the ceremony.”

Of course the general public is not as a rule overly interested in stories about people inconveniently held up for half an hour and so in order to justify the appearance of this one – and its promotion of Serry’s bizarre claims – the circumstances had to be exaggerated and audiences drawn in by means of the inaccurate use of language.  


BBC WS fails to clarify the credentials of an anti-Israel activist, promotes academic boycott

Readers may remember that back in October 2013 the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit reiterated “the importance of clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organisation” in accordance with section 4.4.14 of the BBC editorial guidelines.

Readers may also have already heard about the recent uproar on the Palestinian street after a professor took students on a visit to Auschwitz.

“Professor Mohammed S. Dajani took 27 Palestinian college students to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland a few weeks ago as part of a project designed to teach empathy and tolerance. Upon his return, his university disowned the trip, his fellow Palestinians branded him a traitor and friends advised a quick vacation abroad.”

On April 17th the BBC World Service programme ‘World Have Your Say’ weighed in on the subject with an edition titled “Should Palestinian students go to Auschwitz?“. For reasons unknown, despite that programme’s webpage stating that “this episode will be available soon”, it is not.WHYS

What is available on that webpage, however, is a short clip from the programme which opens with an unidentified speaker claiming that:

“The reason we complained about Mr. Dajani’s initiative has nothing to do with the issue of the Holocaust or recognition of the Holocaust. We have two main reasons why we objected to his initiative. One is its ties with Tel Aviv University where he sends students, with from Tel Aviv University, and this is in violation of the boycott of Israeli universities that we Palestinian academics and all Palestinian universities have agreed to. And the second reason is that he adopted the Zionist perspective that Judaism and Zionism are the same thing and in our opinion this is an antisemitic attitude to equate Zionism and Judaism and somehow link making peace and Zionism with the issues of Jewish suffering around the world.”

So who is this unidentified Palestinian speaker who promotes academic boycott and bizarrely affords himself the right to define antisemitism?

From a podcast of a section the same programme – available for a limited period of time here – we learn that the speaker is Mazin Qumsiyeh, with the BBC presenter introducing him thus:

“And Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh is with us – professor at Bethlehem and Bir Zeit University and author of books on non-violent resistance as well.”

Those familiar with Qumsiyeh’s range of activities will appreciate that the introduction obviously does nothing to contribute to the BBC commitment to “clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organization”.

Audiences are not informed of Qumsiyeh’s involvement in provocative publicity stunts designed to delegitimize Israel such as the ‘air flotillas’, the so-called ‘Freedom Rides’ and the ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ and they are not made aware of his full range of affiliations with organisations and projects dedicated to bringing about the demise of Israel as the Jewish state.

“Mazin Qumsiyeh is a well-known Palestinian political activist. He heads the ISM-linked ‘Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People’ (which was involved in the organization of the 2011 ‘flytilla’), is a co-ordinator for the ‘Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements’ in Beit Sahour and was a co-founder of Al Awda (the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition) in the US. Qumseiyeh spoke at the 2010 Stuttgart conference which produced the Stuttgart Declaration – a call for opposition to a negotiated two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Defamatory claims of ‘apartheid’ and ‘Zionist collaboration with the Nazis’, along with other falsehoods, appear in Qumsiyeh’s comments posted on the WHYS Facebook page and to date have been allowed to stand by whoever moderates that page on behalf of the BBC World Service.





Had BBC World Service audiences been fully informed of Mazin Qumsiyeh’s political opinions and range of anti-Israel activities, they may have been able to judge the relevance of such comments and the context-free promotion of academic boycott for themselves. As it is, with Qumsiyeh having merely been introduced under the authoritative titles of “professor” and “author” – in contravention of BBC editorial guidelines – they are deliberately misled.  


The saga of three questions the BBC did not want to answer – part two

In part one of this article we noted the process which led to the BBC’s eventual response to three questions regarding its complaints system which were posed by Mr Neil Turner in April 2013.

 • How many complaints were made to the BBC over the last 5 years on a year by year basis?

• How many complaints were upheld (i.e. the BBC makes a correction) on a year by year basis?

• How many complaints were rejected by the BBC (i.e. no corrective action taken)?

So what does the information provided by the BBC tell us about its three-stage complaints system?

complaints 1

Because of the general nature of some of the complaints or comments made at Stage 1, the fact that there is no way of knowing what proportion of them related to editorial issues and the additional fact that no information is kept regarding whether changes are made to BBC content as a result of those complaints or comments, it is impossible to establish how many of the members of the public complaining about editorial content at Stage 1 were satisfied with the response they received (if at all) and how many simply abandoned the process at this stage.  

We can, however, clearly conclude that only a small proportion of those complaints were actually pursued further along the process.

At Stage 2 of the complaints process, we see that whilst the actual number of complaints made at that stage has generally risen over the past five years, the percentage of those upheld has fallen.

complaints 2

complaints 3

Seeing as all complaints going on to Stage 3 would have had to pass through Stage 2, we can also look at the number of people whose complaints were not upheld at Stage 2, but dropped out of the process at that point rather than continuing to Stage 3. Hence we see that on average, 45.2% of complainants chose not to pursue further a complaint which was not upheld at Stage 2.

complaints 4

Of those complaints which were pursued to Stage 3, we see that an average of 4.28% were upheld in full.

complaints 5

The fact that a complaint is upheld at Stage 3 indicates that the process at Stage 2 was inadequate, and thus we can see how many complaints which were rejected at Stage 2 were later found to be justified at Stage 3.

complaints 6

The information provided does not include complaints which were partially upheld at Stage 3 and thus likewise indicate that the process at Stage 2 was at least inadequate in part. It is of course impossible to know how many of the 45.2% of complaints which dropped out of the system after rejection at Stage 2 would have been upheld at Stage 3 had they reached that part of the procedure.

As we have documented here in the past (see for example here and here), even the fact that a complaint – which may have spent months or even years going through the entire long and complicated BBC complaints procedure –  is upheld at Stage 3 does not guarantee that a correction will be made to the relevant report or that the public will be informed of any amendment made. Clearly there is an urgent need for reform of that part of the procedure.

As a publicly funded body, the BBC should welcome the feedback from its licence-fee payers which comes in the form of comments or complaints. That feedback is a valuable tool for the improvement of the standard of its journalism and a way for the BBC to feel the pulse of the people for whom – after all – it exists. Instead, members of the public find themselves facing a complicated, time-consuming  and – importantly – self-regulating and therefore subjective process which, as these figures provided by the BBC show, simply causes most people to abandon the process and drop out along the way. 


BBC News redesigns Jerusalem’s Old City

Over the Easter and Pessah holidays, the BBC News website’s Middle East page included in its ‘Features & Analysis’ section a written report about Jerusalem published on April 17th.Jerusalem written

What makes Jerusalem so holy?” – by Erica Chernofsky - laudably avoids some of the more common errors made by many a foreign journalist by correctly pointing out the 1949 ceasefire (or armistice) line and by accurately depicting the Western Wall.

“The Jewish Quarter is home to the Kotel, or the Western Wall, a remnant of the retaining wall of the mount on which the Holy Temple once stood.

Inside the temple was the Holy of Holies, the most sacred site in Judaism.

Jews believe that this was the location of the foundation stone from which the world was created, and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Today, the Western Wall is the closest place Jews can pray to the Holy of Holies.”

However, the article also states that:

“The Muslim Quarter is the largest of the four and contains the shrine of the Dome of Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque on a plateau known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary.”

Jerusalem written 2

The Temple Mount or Haram al Sharif – location of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque – is of course a separate area and it is not located within the Muslim quarter any more than it is situated in the adjacent Jewish quarter, although both those quarters adjoin parts of its walls.   


The saga of three questions the BBC did not want to answer – part one

• How many complaints were made to the BBC over the last 5 years on a year by year basis?

• How many complaints were upheld (i.e. the BBC makes a correction) on a year by year basis?

• How many complaints were rejected by the BBC (i.e. no corrective action taken)?

Whilst none of the questions above may seem particularly controversial, the BBC refused to answer them when, in April 2013, they were presented by Mr Neil Turner – as previously explained in this article – as a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. What followed over the next twelve months will be of considerable interest to the many readers whose expressions of frustration with the BBC’s labyrinthine complaints procedures drop into our inbox every day.

With the BBC having refused to answer the questions above posed by one of its licence fee payers, Mr Turner asked his Member of Parliament for help in retrieving the information from the BBC’s director general Tony Hall and chair of the BBC Trust Chris Patten. But despite the MP’s significant help, that request was also unsuccessful, as were further communications Mr Turner then made to BBC executives.

The BBC’s refusal to release the requested information under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act cited a clause with which those familiar with the decade-long story of the Balen Report will be only too familiar: it claimed that the BBC was not required under the terms of the FOIA to respond to Mr Turner’s questions, because the corporation is only subject to the FOIA  “in respect of information held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature.”

In other words, the same claim used for the last decade to prevent publication of the Balen Report was again employed to avoid providing the information requested by Mr Turner.

In July 2013 Mr Turner contacted the Information Commissioner with regard to the BBC’s refusal to answer his questions under the FOIA, but the Commissioner backed the BBC’s stance, again citing the “journalism, art or literature” clause – as explained in the parts of the response reproduced below.






Mr Turner’s subsequent appeal to the Information Commissioner also upheld the BBC’s stance. His approach to the Information Rights Tribunal in November 2013 was followed in March 2014 by a surprising about-turn in the BBC’s position and a letter from the BBC’s Litigation Department which included the information below.

reply complaints 1

reply complaints 2

reply complaints 3

reply complaints 4

reply complaints 5

reply complaints 6

Despite this provision of previously withheld information to him personally, Mr Turner maintained that the purpose of the FOIA is to make information available to the public at large rather than just to interested individuals.  A week later, Mr Turner was informed by the BBC that should he not withdraw his appeal, he would be pursued for the corporation’s legal costs. As a private citizen without professional legal backing, Mr Turner had no choice but to comply.

This case – in particular given the BBC’s sudden change of stance – of course once again raises questions about the BBC’s use of the “journalism, art and literature” clause of the FOIA,  as indeed does the continuing Balen Report saga.

In part two of this article we will look at what the information provided by the BBC tells us about its complaints procedure.