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.

FOIA 1

FOIA 2

FOIA 3

FOIA 4

FOIA 5

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.   

 

 

 

 

 

Anti-Israel campaigners seek Balen 2 from the BBC

As if enough public money had not already been wasted by the BBC in order to prevent the publication of the 2004 Balen Report, a petition is now doing the rounds to try to persuade the BBC to repeat the exercise. 

“This petition calls upon the Trustees of the BBC Trust to initiate a full, impartial and public inquiry into the way that the BBC reports on matters relating to Israel in relation to events in the Middle East, with the objective of establishing whether such bias exists and if so how this should be remedied on an enduring basis in the short and long term.”

Although it would undoubtedly be simpler – and cheaper – to petition the BBC to release the report it already has, that of course would not achieve the same PR effects that the initiator of this petition apparently seeks. Read all about it over at The Commentator.  

Letter to The Times calls for release of Balen Report

The letter below, from the former Chair of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain & Ireland, recently appeared in The Times (£). 

Sir, Is it unreasonable to expect the BBC, our public broadcaster, to be neutral in its reporting, to expose and not ignore matters of national importance, to treat its funding with respect, not to re-employ executives who have been publicly criticised, and to have a complaints procedure that does not require a near genius to navigate? Professor Goode’s defence of the BBC for only doing part of its job is misplaced.

The BBC should always be transparent, and now would be a good opportunity to show it understands its failings and publish its own commissioned Balen report (on its reporting of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict) that it has spent more than £330,000 of our money in concealing.

Harvey Rose 
London NW11

 

The Commentator’s FOI request on the Balen Report

Our friends over at The Commentator have news of their Freedom of Information request regarding the Balen Report. 

“A new Freedom of Information request by The Commentator has led to the BBC having to once again hide information about the Balen Report.

The report, initially commissioned in 2006, set out to analyse the BBC’s coverage of the Middle East. The author was Malcolm Balen, the BBC’s senior editorial adviser.

Since then, the UK’s largest broadcaster, which is indeed funded by the public, has refused to release the report and been coy about its spending and the complaints it has received as a result.

A Freedom of Information request by The Commentator earlier this year found that the BBC had spent over £330,000 on external legal costs. The BBC failed to answer questions about internal costs and the cost of commissioning and reviewing of the report.”

Read the rest here.  

 

Petition for release of BBC’s Balen Report

The Zionist Federation has initiated a petition calling for the release of the Balen Report.  

“We call upon the BBC to release the findings to the general public of the Balen report that looked into its Middle East coverage and allegations of bias against Israel by the BBC. The BBC has spent over a third of a million pounds on covering up these findings for eight years. We believe this is a misuse of BBC licence fee payers’ money. The BBC should be obligated to reveal to its licence fee payers all the findings of this report on its coverage of the Middle East.” 

For more on the circumstances surrounding the Balen Report, see here.