Middle East

Supreme Court upholds BBC's refusal on Israel report

Some people have claimed BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is biased
Image caption The late Steven Sugar had claimed the BBC's coverage was biased against Israel

The UK Supreme Court has rejected an appeal against the BBC's refusal to publish a report into its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Five justices unanimously dismissed the appeal by solicitor Steven Sugar.

He had asked for the internal Balen Report from 2004 to be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.

However, the BBC argued that it was exempt from the Act with regard to information it held for the purposes of "journalism, art or literature".

Mr Sugar, who died of cancer last year aged 61, had wanted to know whether the report supported his claim that the corporation was biased against Israel.

His appeal was taken up by his widow, Fiona Paveley.

The report was an internal document assessing the corporation's coverage of the Middle East, which was compiled in 2004 by an editorial adviser, Malcolm Balen.

The Supreme Court ruled that once it was established that the information sought was held by the BBC to any significant degree for the purposes of journalism it was exempt, even if the information was also held for other purposes.

The BBC said in a statement: "We welcome the Supreme Court's judgment, which upholds the rulings of other courts in this case, and will ensure that the BBC is afforded the space to conduct its journalistic activities freely.

Applied in 2005

"Independent journalism requires honest and open internal debate free from external pressures. This ruling enables us to continue to do that."

Mr Sugar first applied for disclosure of the Balen Report in 2005.

The BBC's refusal to disclose it led to litigation which went all the way to the Law Lords, before being referred back to the Information Tribunal, which ruled in Mr Sugar's favour.

But that decision was overturned by the High Court and that was upheld last year by the Court of Appeal.

His widow appealed up to the Supreme Court, which had taken over from the Law Lords as the role of highest court in the land.

She took the case on because she felt abandoning it would be a "betrayal" of a cause which was so important to her husband.

Mr Sugar believed Orla Guerin, the BBC's former Middle East correspondent, was biased against Israel. She was accused of anti-Semitism in 2004 by the Israeli government.

Ms Guerin is currently a BBC correspondent based in Pakistan.

Wednesday's ruling is being seen as a landmark case and establishes a legal test as to "what constitutes a document held for journalistic purposes".

Mrs Paveley was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.