BBC wins High Court appeal over publication of report

The BBC has won the right to keep secret an internal report into its Middle East coverage, in the first appeal to go to the high court over the terms of the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Justice Davis upheld a decision by the information commissioner, Richard Thomas, that the Balen report was covered by an exemption which denies public access to information held for the purposes of "journalism, art or literature". The ruling is a blow for critics of the BBC's coverage, who want to know if the 20,000-word report discloses evidence of anti-Israeli bias in reporting of the area. Compiled in 2004 by Malcolm Balen, a senior editorial adviser, it examined hundreds of hours of BBC radio and television broadcasts.

The judgment has wide implications for the application of the act to public service broadcasting, although the judge refused to attempt to define "the purposes of journalism." The BBC has refused more than 400 requests on the same basis.

A BBC spokesman said: "The Balen report was commissioned by the former BBC director of news, Richard Sambrook, from an experienced journalist. It was never intended for publication." The BBC had already released the independent impartiality review on Middle East coverage by Sir Quentin Thomas's committee. This had found no deliberate bias.

BBC wins right to keep report on Middle East coverage secret (The Guardian, 28 April 2007)