BBC continues to hide over Balen costs and implications

The BBC refuses to hand over more information about the Balen Report, according to a new Freedom of Information response

by The Commentator on 7 December 2012 11:17


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. 

Our FOI asked (with answers in italics below):

1. To ask under the FOI Act 2000, what the initial cost of commissioning and reviewing the Balen Report was, including staff time (estimates if necessary).

The BBC considers that such information would not fall within the scope of FOIA however in this case, the BBC is happy to volunteer that this information is not held. Mr Balen was asked by Richard Sambrook, then the BBC’s Director of News, to prepare a report on the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he undertook in the regular course of his employment by the BBC as a senior editorial adviser. There was no separate budget allocated, nor did Mr Balen record the time spent on this, as opposed to his other responsibilities. 

2. To ask what the cost has been to the in-house legal team in fighting the release of the Balen Report.

As stated in the response to you of 10 August 2012, the BBC only holds information relating to the external legal costs of defending its position. There is no internal charging mechanism for the BBC’s salaried in-house lawyers and we therefore do not hold the information you have requested. 

3. To ask how many complaints the BBC has ever received with regards to the Balen Report 

The BBC considers that such information would not fall within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. Part VI of Schedule I to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for “purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”.

The Balen Report is an internal review of programme content which is currently held to inform and support the BBC’s coverage of the Middle East. As such, the BBC considers that it is clearly being held for the purposes of journalism, and therefore the BBC is under no obligation to disclose it.

The BBC has previously declined, under the Act, a number of requests for the Balen Report for the same reason. The Act affords the BBC protection for its journalistic and editorial independence by maintaining a creative and journalistic space for programme makers to produce material for broadcast free from external interference.


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