BBC does not have to disclose how on-screen 'talent' journalists are recruited, Information Commissioner rules

The Information Commissioner's Office has ruled that the BBC does not have to disclose how on-screen staff are recruited.

The ICO has judged that the information is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act because it is held by the BBC for the purposes of "journalism, art or literature".

Previously, the BBC has been forced to reveal how senior, off-screen journalists have been taken on after an appeal from Press Gazette to the Information Commissioner.

The corporation has been accused of contradicting its own guidelines with the appointments of several journalists, apparently without competition, in recent months.

In particular, the appointments of Lucy Manning and Ed Campbell from ITN over the summer caused upset within the corporation.

The BBC press office refused to say whether Manning, Campbell and 21 other high-profile journalists had been taken on after a fair and open application and interview process.

And later the corporation rejected a Freedom of Information Act request from Press Gazette for this information.

However, the BBC was forced to disclose part of the information requested after an appeal was made to the Information Commissioner.

In November, information on the salary bands and recruitment processes behind the following positions were disclosed:

  • Managing editor of BBC News, Keith Blackmore
  • Editor of BBC News and Six and Ten, Paul Royall
  • Newsnight editor, Ian Katz
  • Former head of news programmes, Ceri Thomas
  • Head of BBC College of Journalism, Mark Wray
  • Scottish referendum editor, John Mullin
  • Head of BBC TV and current affairs and deputy head of news programmes, Jim Gray
  • BBC radio director, Helen Boaden
  • BBC online archive editor, Peter Rippon
  • Director of news and current affairs, James Harding
  • Editor of special correspondents, Ed Campebell.

Included in the disclosure was the fact that Campbell, Boaden and Rippon were appointed by single people in management, and that their positions were not advertised for internally or externally.

However, the BBC maintained its position of not revealing the recruitment processes faced by those it considered "talent" – journalists, such as Manning, Newsnight's Evan Davis and Today's Mishal Husain, who appear on camera. 

The BBC claimed that this information was excluded from FoI because it is held for the purposes of "journalism, art or literature".

And the Information Commissioner has now accepted this argument.

The ruling said: "The information that has been requested in this case is details of how BBC talent were recruited and their salary bands.

"The BBC explained that the information it holds about those individuals it describes as talent, supports the creation of programme content.

"It explained that this is because the engagement of talent is one of many ‘factors of production’ in the creation of a programme – the unique set of characteristics in each programme which help to generate viewing and value.

"It said that these range from the ‘design/narrative/format of a programme, through to its execution/direction/visual appeal to the relevance of its subject/location/story and the lead and supporting performing talent used’."

It added: "The Commissioner has considered the explanation given by the BBC and accepts that the requested information can be said to be held for the purposes of journalism.

"In the Commissioner’s view the information was held for purposes including editorial and creative decision making.

"How the BBC appoints its talent and what it pays them is part of the way in which the BBC creates its programmes and this is of course clearly linked to the BBC’s output, in this case news current affairs and journalistic activities."

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