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Last Updated: Friday, 27 April 2007, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
BBC report to remain confidential
News 24
The report looked at the BBC's news coverage of the Middle East
The BBC has won a legal battle to keep the contents of an internal review of its Middle East reporting confidential.

A judge overturned an order that the report should be made public under Freedom of Information laws.

London lawyer Steven Sugar, who had asked to see the document, said he hoped the BBC Trust might reconsider and publish it in the public interest.

The BBC, which had been accused of biased reporting against Israel, has welcomed the High Court ruling.

It had argued the so-called Balen report - named after the senior editor who wrote it - had been produced "for purposes of journalism", and therefore fell outside the scope of right-to-know laws.

The information commissioner agreed, but Mr Sugar took the case to appeal and the Information Tribunal backed him.

'Technical win'

Mr Justice Davis, sitting in the High Court, accepted the Corporation's argument that the tribunal had no jurisdiction in a case where a public service broadcaster and the information commissioner agreed documents fell outside the scope of the act.

The judge described the position as "most odd" and "potentially inconvenient in its consequence".

There were, said Mr Justice Davis, "powerful reasons in favour of there being a right of appeal to the tribunal in circumstances such as the present".

Commercial solicitor Mr Sugar, from Putney in south London, described the ruling as a "technical win" for the BBC.

He added: "Perhaps the BBC Trust under its new chairman, will take a different view from BBC management and conclude it is in the public interest for Mr Balen's report to be published."

Bias allegations

Mr Sugar said the government now needed to look again at the way the act was framed.

"It is clear that the journalism exception was introduced into the Freedom of Information Act principally in order to prevent access to broadcasters' out-takes," he said.

"But unfortunately the exception was drafted in general terms which has allowed its use to prevent the public gaining access to much material which I am sure the government intended should be publicly available"

Critics of the corporation's Middle East coverage had wanted it made public, suspecting it would show the BBC itself had found evidence of anti-Israel bias in its news coverage of the region.

BBC logo
The Balen report was always intended as an internal review of programme content, to inform future output. It was never intended for publication.
BBC statement

The BBC had said it was vital for independent journalism that debates among its staff about how it covered stories did not have to be opened up to the public gaze.

A statement from the corporation said: "The Balen report was always intended as an internal review of programme content, to inform future output. It was never intended for publication.

"The BBC's action in this case had nothing to do with the fact that the Balen report was about the Middle East - the same approach would have been taken whatever area of new output was covered."

Members of the public had other ways of joining the debate over impartiality it said.


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