It is a long running joke that if you ask the BBC anything at all likely to cast them in a negative light they will conjure up a response that tells you nothing.
Indeed one of their favourite rebuttals to potentially embarrassing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests is trot out their tried and tested excuse that the information is exempt because it is held for the purposes of "journalism, art or literature".
The legislation is interesting in this respect. Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC is only covered by the Act if it is "held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature". It falls short of stating explicitly that journalism, art and literature information is exempt, although this is the interpretation the BBC has adopted to sidestep barbed requests. Furthermore the definition of journalism, art and literature is whatever the BBC wants to make of it.
As a consequence of their loose interpretation of journalism, art and literature the BBC is able to avoid blushes by sweeping perfectly legitimate and well intended information requests under the carpet. A good example is a recently refused request asking for the total cost of vehicles damaged for entertainment purposes during the filming of Top Gear.
One FOIA request the BBC was gracious enough to respond to reveals the following alarming statistics:
- In 2008/09 the BBC rejected 52% of all FOIA requests citing their interpretation of journalism, art and literature.
- In 2009/10 the rejection rate was 50%.
- In 2010/11 the rejection rate was 49%.
The BBC evidently has that many skeletons in its closet that it sticks two fingers up to every second person making an FOIA request. I find that quite worrying.
You might find our previous article about the BBC's disappearing FOIA archive interesting too.