It's a long standing joke that the BBC, despite sanctimoniously heralding a "new era of transparent accountability" in the wake of the Savile scandal, would often pawn its own grandmother rather than respond to some Freedom of Information requests.
As regular readers will know, the TV Licensing Blog often uses the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to probe the integrity of the national broadcaster. More often than not that same national broadcaster - the one proclaiming its new found, squeaky clean transparency - finds any excuse it can to refuse giving a straightforward response.
In the alarmingly rare event that the BBC does provide a response, there is no guaranteeing its accuracy or completeness. Our experience would suggest that the BBC holds the Freedom of Information Act in contempt, given its laissez faire attitude to processing information requests in a timely and efficient manner.
Under the current legislation, a public authority is only obliged to provide information that it holds in its own right, or that held by another body on the public authority's behalf. This means that whenever the BBC receives an information request on the topic of TV Licensing, it can simply refuse by claiming "the information is held by [name of contractor], but not on our behalf", whether or not that is actually the case.
Another Freedom of Information loophole regularly exploited by the BBC is the journalism, art or literature derogation. Under this rule, the BBC can refuse to provide any information that it holds for the purposes of journalism, art or literature.
Depending on how rigorously the BBC applies the derogation, that could mean it refuses every request that relates to any of its television, radio, theatre, music or publishing operations. Given the abundance of skeletons lurking in the BBC closet, the derogation really is wide open to exploitation by a BBC content on keeping sordid scandal buried for as long as possible. Just yesterday we published an article commenting on the fact that a well-known personality was implicated in historic sex abuse allegations, but was being protected by his BBC paymasters.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information is calling for an extension of the legislation, to make private companies responsible for disclosing information held in relation to their public functions.
Campaign director Maurice Frankel told the Guardian: "Information about public services provided by contractors, whether commercial bodies or charities, should be covered by FoI. The loophole in the act, which excludes such information if the contract doesn’t refer to it, should be closed. The public’s right to know should not be arbitrarily cut off because the staff who provide the service are paid by a contractor not by the authority itself."
The Government is currently conducting a review into the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and we eagerly await the outcome.