BBC mounts court fight to keep 'critical' report secret
The BBC has spent thousands of pounds of licence payers' money trying to block the release of a report which is believed to be highly critical of its Middle East coverage.
The corporation is mounting a landmark High Court action to prevent the release of The Balen Report under the Freedom of Information Act, despite the fact that BBC reporters often use the Act to pursue their journalism.
The action will increase suspicions that the report, which is believed to run to 20,000 words, includes evidence of anti-Israeli bias in news programming.
Like all public bodies, the BBC is obliged to release information about itself under the Act. However, along with Channel 4, Britain's other public service broadcaster, it is allowed to hold back material that deals with the production of its art, entertainment and journalism.
The High Court action is the latest stage of a lengthy and expensive battle by Steven Sugar, a lawyer, to get access to the document, which was compiled by Malcolm Balen, a senior editorial adviser, in 2004.
Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, who is responsible for the workings of the Act, agreed with the BBC that the document, which examines hundreds of hours of its radio and television broadcasts, could be held back. However, Mr Sugar appealed and, after a two-day hearing at which the BBC was represented by two barristers, the Information Tribunal found in his favour.
Mr Sugar said: "This is a serious report about a serious issue and has been compiled with public money. I lodged the request because I was concerned that the BBC's reporting of the second intifada was seriously unbalanced against Israel, but I think there are other issues at stake now in the light of the BBC's reaction."
...The BBC declined to say how much it was spending on the High Court action. "We will be appealing the decision of the Information Tribunal," a spokesman said. "This case has wider implications relating to the way the Act applies to public broadcasters."
Well, we'll just have to wait.
(Kippah tip: HTS)