Supreme Court rules BBC need not reveal internal Israel-Palestine coverage report

Sugar (Deceased) (Represented by Fiona Paveley) (Appellant) v British Broadcasting Corporation (Respondent) [2012] UKSC 4 – Read judgment / press summary

The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that an internal BBC report into its coverage of the Israeli Palestinian conflict was “information held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature” and therefore need not be released to the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Four of the justices were of the view that even if information is held only partly for the purposes of journalism, art or literature, it is outside the scope of the FOIA. Lord Wilson however, was of the opinion that if information is held predominantly for the purposes of journalism, art or literature, it is outside the scope of FOIA and that the Balen Report was held predominantly for those purposes. The BBC will be relieved that the “partly” view prevailed, as the “predominately” test might in practice have brought a lot of internal documents within the scope of the FOIA.

The “Balen Report” was commissioned by the BBC in 2004 by a senior broadcast journalist, Michael Balen. It was commissioned following allegations of bias in the coverage. Mr Sugar, a solicitor, applied to see the report under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The BBC argued that the report was “information held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature” and therefore fell outside of the Act under the terms of section 7 of Schedule 1 to the Act.

Continue reading

Freedom of information – no longer the Cinderella of rights

BUAV v Information Commissioner and Newcastle University (EA/2010/0064) – read judgment

There is no doubt that freedom of expression plays a starring role in the human rights fairy tale. While she is carried aloft on the soaring rhetoric of citizens’ rights from the newsrooms to protesters’ rallies, the right to information, her shy stepsister, is rarely allowed out. How can that be? Surely we can’t have the one without the other?

The key lies in the Strasbourg Court’s traditionally restrictive interpretation of  the relevant part of Article 10 – “the freedom to … to receive and impart information” (10(1)). Although the right to information is explicit (unlike many of the other rights the Court has conjured from the Convention), it does not entitle a citizen a right of access to government-held information about his personal position, nor does it embody an obligation on the government to impart such information to the individual (Leander v Sweden (1987) 9 EHRR 433). This approach is changing, particularly in relation to press applicants. But the culture remains hostile; as the Court says  “it is difficult to derive from the Convention a general right of access to administrative data and documents” (Loiseau v. France (dec.), no. 46809/99, ECHR 2003-XII – a self-serving statement if ever there was one, given that it is not the Convention but the Court’s own case law that has been so tight-fisted in the past.

Continue reading