UK

BBC Balen report can stay confidential

BBC News Channel
Image caption The report looked at the BBC's news coverage of the Middle East

A further bid to force publication of a review by the BBC of its Middle East coverage has been rejected.

London lawyer Steven Sugar wanted the Balen report, which was drawn up in 2004, to be revealed under the Freedom of Information Act.

Last year it was ruled that, as the material was held "for the purposes of journalism, art or literature", the corporation had no duty to disclose it.

This High Court decision was upheld by judges in the Court of Appeal.

Mr Sugar's original request to see the report gained the backing of the Information Tribunal after initially being dismissed by the Information Commissioner.

In 2009, Mr Justice Irwin at the High Court had found that the Information Tribunal was wrong in law when it held that the report was not covered by the exemption and so should be disclosed to Mr Sugar.

At the Court of Appeal the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, Lord Justice Moses and Lord Justice Munby - upheld that decision and rejected Mr Sugar's appeal.

Internal review

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.

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 covered stories did not have to be opened up to the public gaze.

The Master of the Rolls said the Freedom of Information Act allowed that material held by the BBC was disclosable if it was held "for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature".

But he accepted the BBC's argument that, once it was established that the information sought was held by the corporation for the purposes of journalism, it was effectively exempt from production under the act, even if it was also being held for other purposes.

He said: "After all, there must be a great deal of information held by the BBC which is not solely held for journalistic purposes, if 'journalism' is given the meaning which the tribunal accorded to it, and it could well have a chilling effect on BBC journalism and could well operate unfairly on the BBC against its commercial rivals, if any document held for journalistic purposes and another purpose was liable to be disclosed to the public."

A spokesman for the BBC said: "We have always maintained that the report was held for the purpose of journalism and is therefore not disclosable under the act. Repeated rulings in the courts have agreed with this position.

"We have defended our position in the courts because free and impartial journalism is vital to viewers and listeners.

"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."

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