BBC wins right to keep FoI exemptions

The BBC has today successfully defended its right in the High Court to keep a report into its Middle East coverage secret.

Solicitor Steven Sugar had been challenging the corporation to hand over the so-called Balen report, a 20,000-word document written by BBC senior editorial advisor Malcolm Balen in 2004, under the Freedom of Information Act.

But the BBC has repeatedly refused the request citing a section of the act that exempts it from releasing information relating to information held for the "purposes of journalism". The case went to the Information Commissioner and Sugar's challenge of his decision was quashed today – which could set a landmark precedent in the use of the FOI Act.

In a statement today the BBC said: "The BBC has always maintained that the Balen report is held for purposes of journalism and, therefore, outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. The Information Commissioner agreed. We believe that programme makers must have the space to be able to freely discuss and reflect on editorial issues in support of independent journalism."

The High Court ruled that Sugar will not receive leave to appeal to the Information Tribunal over the ruling, effectively ending his campaign to make the report public.

The Balen report was commissioned by the former BBC Director of News, Richard Sambrook, from Malcolm Balen.

The BBC described it as "an internal review of programme content, to inform future output", not intended for public consumption.

The corporation denied that its efforts to keep the report private was because its relates to its coverage of the Middle East.


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