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Friday, 5 August 2011

Less than Transparent: BBC Freedom of Information

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.


Anonymous said...

Most media are less than forgiving of any response that suggests 'something to hide'.

Interesting the variable standards applied then.

I also find this on the few blogs that are (currently left) open.

If it doesn't suit, there are a variety of catch-alls that are deployed which basically can reject anything, for any reason. 'Off topic' is a favorite, but I have had this: 'considered likely to provoke, attack or offend others, use swear words, or disrupt the message boards'. The latter essentially is a licence to censor.

I know of no other entity that is so uniquely protected from critique or censure, yet hypocritical in pursuit of others for much less.

Anonymous said...

The BBC even tries to use the journalism argument when asked for details about public complaints

Try reading this interesting blog post on the subject.....


"Following the response, our reader then filed a Freedom of Information request to the BBC asking for details of:

* how many complaints/ accusations of bias the BBC received from the public about the BBC’s coverage of climate change

* how many of the complaints received about climate change were upheld by the BBC, i.e. were accepted

* brief details / a list of all the complaints upheld, i.e. the details of the upheld complaint and the BBC’s response (excluding details of the person complaining)