BBC will appeal FoI ruling on Balen report

The BBC will appeal to the High Court to overturn an Information Tribunal ruling that the corporation should release a report into its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under the Freedom of Information Act.

Last month, the Tribunal ruled that the corporation should release the report, written in 2004 by senior editorial advisor Malcolm Balen (pictured), following an FoI request from lawyer Steven Sugar.

"We believe that the case has wider implications for the way the Freedom of Information Act applies to public service broadcasters," a BBC spokeswoman said.

The BBC, along with Channel 4 and Welsh broadcaster S4C, is subject to the Freedom of Information Act, but must only disclose only for material held "for purposes other than journalism, art or literature."

The case is the first test of the exact extent of that derogation.

The BBC refused Sugar's initial request citing the derogation. The Information Commissioner upheld the BBC's decision on appeal.

Overturning the Commissioner's ruling, however, the tribunal decided that the "journalism" derogation does not apply to the Balen Report because at the time of the request the BBC had been using it for strategic, rather than for journalistic, purposes.

The tribunal decision included, for the first time, a discussion of the meaning of "journalism" in the FoI legislation.

The tribunal decided that the key distinction to be drawn was between "functional journalism" and "the direction of policy, strategy and resources that provide the framework within which the operations of a [public service broadcaster] take place".

If the BBC ultimately loses the case, it may be forced to re-assess more than 400 FoI requests that it has rejected on the basis of the derogation.

 

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