BBC hypocrisy over freedom of information
Iain Harrison – Sunday Post August 9, 2009
THE BBC was last night accused of “breathtaking hypocrisy” after it emerged it obstructs more than half of all requests for information it receives.
Hundreds of applications for details about presenters’ salaries and the costs of making programmes have been turned down or dodged.
It has also refused to disclose specific details about complaints against itself.
This is despite its own journalists making extensive use of the Freedom of Information Act for their own investigations.
Now the tables have been turned by a member of the public who has used the act to demand details of the number of requests for information about itself that the BBC turns down.
George Foulkes, the Labour MSP who in May succeeded in getting BBC News 24 newsreader Carrie Gracie to disclose her £92,000 salary on air slammed the revelations.
“They use freedom of information laws to obtain details about all sorts of public bodies but continually reject requests from the public about their own affairs,” he said.
“The BBC ought to give the information voluntarily but it appears to be one rule for them and another for everyone else. Their hypocrisy is breathtaking.”
The organisation last month bowed to public pressure by publishing the salaries and expenses of its most senior executives. This revealed that 383 BBC bosses earn more than £100,000 a year.
But the BBC continues to block dozens of requests every week on a host of other subjects.
These include the earnings of some of its biggest stars, including Jeremy Paxman, Terry Wogan and Jonathan Ross, who is believed to be on £6 million a year.
The corporation sidesteps many requests by claiming it doesn’t have to disclose material that is held for the purposes of “journalism, art or literature”.
Mike Rumbles, Liberal Democrat chief whip, said, “In the current climate there is understandable demand to see what taxpayers’ money is being spent on.
“Openness and transparency are the watchwords in regard to spending public money. The BBC shouldn’t forget that.”
Figures reveal that of the 2253 FOI requests received by the BBC between 2005 and 2008, only 1037 were answered in full.
In 623 cases information was partially disclosed while the remaining 593 were either blocked, cancelled or deemed not available.
The BBC is already under fire for spending £173,458 of licence payers’ money in legal fees to suppress an internal report into allegations of bias against Israel.
London solicitor Steven Sugar requested a copy the document under FOI legislation but was refused. He took the case to the Information Tribunal who backed his claims.
The BBC’s appeal to the High Court against this decision is ongoing.
A spokeswoman for the BBC said it tries to help with all FOI requests it receives. She added, “As with any public authority, the BBC is not required by the FOI Act to provide information when that information is exempt from disclosure under the act.
“Indeed, to disclose information which is exempt may result in the BBC breaching other legislation, such as the Data Protection Act.
“Information is withheld under an exemption only after careful consideration of the application of that exemption.
“The BBC is entitled, as with any other media organisation, to use the act to obtain information.
“It doesn’t follow that this means the BBC should be expected to disclose its own information when that information is protected by one of the exemptions of the act.”
Last updated 12/08/2009