BBC wins fight to keep Israel-Palestine bias report secret

Supreme Court says Balen Report is exempt from Freedom of Information rules

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The BBC has won an eight-year battle to keep an internal report on its coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict secret.

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The Supreme Court today ruled that the 2004 Balen Report, which was commissioned by the BBC to investigate the impartiality of its coverage of Middle Eastern affairs, was exempt from the 2000 Freedom of Information Act because it is held “for the purposes of journalism”.

The saga began in 2005 when London lawyer Steven Sugar made a Freedom of Information request asking to see the report. The BBC refused, citing the fact that it is only subject to FOI requests “in respect of information held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. 

After hearings and appeals before the Information Tribunal, the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, the case reached the Supreme Court, which finally found in favour of the BBC, stating that “once it is established that the information sought is held by the BBC to any significant degree for the purposes of journalism, it is exempt from production under the FOIA, even if the information is also held for other purposes”.

Sugar, who died in 2011, was quoted in 2009 as saying: “This case is about making the BBC accountable for its journalism.” 

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Despite not being seen by the public, the Balen Report had some impact within the BBC: it prompted a 2004 BBC Journalism Board paper entitled Taking Forward BBC Coverage of the Middle East, which in turn led to the creation of the post of Middle East editor, held since 2005 by Jeremy Bowen (pictured above).