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Free Info or Info-Free?
Why is the BBC spending thousands of pounds in license fee money to block the public release of the Balen Report, an internal document examining the news service's Mideast coverage? The Sunday Telegraph writes:
The corporation is mounting a landmark High Court action to prevent the release of The Balen Report under the Freedom of Information Act, despite the fact that BBC reporters often use the Act to pursue their journalism.
The action will increase suspicions that the report, which is believed to run to 20,000 words, includes evidence of anti-Israeli bias in news programming.
HonestReporting's request for a copy of the report under the Freedom of Information Act was turned down, with the BBC writing to us and other interested parties:
The review, written in 2004 by Malcolm Balen a senior BBC journalist, is currently used by senior editors in BBC News to inform coverage of the Middle East. In our view, the Act does not apply to this document because the BBC holds this document and other Output Reviews for the purposes of "journalism, art or literature." Schedule 1 of the Act provides that the legislation only applies to information held for other purposes.
At least one of the BBC staff addressed the conundrum with some frankness. Martin Rosenbaum of Open Secrets, a blog about FOI issues, writes:
But what is interesting from the FOI perspective is that this is the latest in a series of Tribunal decisions which have overruled the Information Commissioner in the direction of being more favourable to the disclosure of information. This pattern was not widely expected prior to FOI coming into force, when it was generally predicted to be the other way around.
And now that people have started asking me whether I am a functional journalist or a strategic journalist, I have decided the safest thing to do is just look puzzled. That seems to work so far.
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In South Africa a commission appointed to investigate the SABC found that they prohibited using the reports of journalist Paula Slier because she is a white Jewish girl.
MD of news, Dr Snuki Zikalala
"From the movement where I come from we support PLO. But she supported what’s happening in Israel. And then I said to them, Paula Slier, we cannot use her on the Middle East issue because we know where she stands. We need somebody who’s impartial.”
The SABC are also refusing to make the report public.