Al BeBeeCeera, where the swine run the farm…
BBC spends Â£200,000 of licence fees on legal fight to suppress report on anti-Israeli ‘bias’
The BBC has spent hundreds of thousands on a legal fight to block publication of a report on alleged bias in its Middle East reporting.
The Law Lords today ruled that a campaigner who is pursuing a battle to force the broadcaster to make the report public can continue his fight.
But this means the BBC will probably have to spend thousands more as the case is set to rumble on for months until a final decision is reached.
The corporation is understood to have already used about Â£200,000 of licence fee cash trying to prevent it having to release the Balen Report.
Fire. Them. All!
It was judged at the House of Lords that solicitor Steven Sugar’s case had been wrongly blocked by legal rulings at earlier hearings.
Law Lords, by a 3-2 majority, overturned a previous High Court judgement, which now gives renewed hope that the document will seen by the public.
BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen
The lengthy and costly case now returns to the High Court for further arguments before a final decision is made in the coming months.
The corporation has faced the twin accusations that it is wasting licence fee payers money and is guilty of ‘gross hypocrisy’ over its stance.
The BBC regularly uses Freedom of Information legislation to break news stories and on investigations for its current affairs programming.
Publication of the document has been pushed higher up the political agenda after the corporation’s decision last month not to air the Gaza charity appeal.
The Balen report was compiled in 2004 by BBC editorial advisor Malcolm Balen after allegations of pro-Palestinian reporting.
London solicitor Sugar has been fighting ever since to have its findings made public.
He argues that the 20,000-word report by Balen should be published as part of the debate about a perceived anti-Israeli bias.
The BBC contends that, under the Act, it is exempt from disclosing information held for the purposes of “journalism, art or literature”.
It argues that the report was always intended as an internal review to help shape future policy on its Middle East coverage.
Mr Sugar initially took his complaint to the Information Commissioner, who agreed with the BBC that it did not have to make it public.
The campaigner then appealed and won the backing of the Information Tribunal.
The BBC then took the case to the High Court which said the tribunal had no jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal upheld that conclusion.
But the Law Lords reversed this and said that the tribunal did have jurisdiction.
It said the case should be remitted to the High Court for a decision on the other issues raised in the BBC’s defence.
Over the years BBC bosses have faced repeated claims that their reporting of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been skewed.
* Plett, a crying bitch for Arafat-bastard…
One particularly controversial incident came when Middle East correspondent Barbara Plett revealed she had cried as Yasser Arafat was close to death.
In 2004 the Israeli government wrote to the BBC accusing reporter Orla Guerin of anti-Semitism and identifying with Palestinian terror groups.
It has been suggested the BBC’s recent refusal to show a charity appeal for Gaza, sparking thousands of complaints, was a reaction to these accusations.
Politicians have previously branded the corporation’s refusal to reveal the report as ‘absolutely indefensible’ as it is in the public interest.
The corporation has also employed top barristers to fight its case over the years that the legal battle has rumbled on.
Mr Sugar said: ‘It is sad that the BBC felt it necessary to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money fighting for three years to try to load the system against those requesting information from it under the Freedom of Information Act.’
He added: ‘The BBC has finally lost its technical legal argument, the Information Tribunal’s decision in my favour has been restored. I hope that the BBC will now stop the legal argument and publish the Balen report. If not, I am confident that my superb legal team will win the whole case in the end.
‘The Balen report remains of great public interest. It has recently been claimed that the report concluded that its Middle-East coverage had been biased against Israel and that the BBC decision not to broadcast the charity aid appeal for Gaza was influenced by this.’
Mr Sugar has previously said he is prepared to take the case all the way to Europe.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘We went to court to clarify the law over the jurisdiction of the Information Tribunal and the application of the Freedom of Information Act to Public Service Broadcasters.
‘The BBC’s decision to appeal had nothing to do with the fact that the “Balen report” was about the Middle East. It just happened to be the first to go before the courts.
‘The Law Lords have not ruled that the Balen report should be released. What they have done is clarify the law around the jurisdiction of the Information Tribunal.
‘Public Service Broadcasters like the BBC are not required to disclose information under the Freedom of Information Act if it is for the purposes of “journalism, art and literature”.
He added that Law Lords have ordered that the issue of what is meant by “journalism, art and literature” in this instance is now a matter for the High Court.